Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has fired another broadside at the Hawks investigation into the alleged “rogue” unit believed to be involved in corrupt activities at the South African Revenue Service (Sars).
In a statement released on Wednesday Gordhan said despite being under no legal obligation to answer the 27 questions sent to him by Hawks boss Lieutenant-General Berning Ntlemeza, he felt it was in the public interest that he provides the Hawks with the information he had at his disposal.
“The Hawks declined to answer my questions seeking clarity on what offence they were investigating and by what authority they were acting,” Gordhan said.
“They merely referred me to the powers conferred to them by chapter 6A of the South African Police Service Act 68 of 1995. None of the provisions of chapter 6A entitle the Hawks to demand answers, set deadlines and threaten me with retaliation if I fail to respond.
“The deadlines and threats of retaliation were accordingly unlawful.” In his responses to the Hawks, the minister noted the establishment of the unit – known at various stages as the Special Projects Unit, the National Research Group and the High-Risk Investigations Unit – was lawful.
He also stated he had been advised by his legal team that the Sikhakhane Panel finding that the unit contravened the National Strategic Intelligence Act “was wrong and based on a superficial and clearly mistaken reading of the aforementioned Act”.
Gordhan said during his time as commissioner, the unit employed about 26 people – a “miniscule” part of the 15 000 staff compliment of Sars.
“My knowledge of the unit’s day-to-day operations was consequently very limited,” Gordhan stated. “If it or any of its members engaged in unlawful activities then they did so without my knowledge or consent. I have no knowledge of the operation codenamed ‘Sunday Evenings’.”
“Project Sunday Evenings” was an alleged operation to spy on former prosecutions boss Vusi Pikoli and other senior National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) members investigating former police commissioner Jackie Selebi by planting bugging equipment in the NPA’s offices.
“This unit was part of the broader enforcement division of Sars – similar to the enforcement capabilities required in any tax and customs administration in the world,” Gordhan said, and added the Hawks had no reason to investigate him.
“All of us should be concerned about protecting our democratic institutions in a manner that assures public confidence that these institutions will not be arbitrarily tampered with. This is what the constitution requires of all of us.”
There has been a high degree of rancour between Gordhan and Ntlemeza in recent weeks, beginning with Ntlemeza submitting a list of 27 questions to Gordhan four days before his budget speech.