Pravin Gordhan said that as finance minister, his conscience was clear that he had done all the checking he could do at the time over then acting Sars commissioner Ivan Pillay’s early retirement, and had done “the right thing by the law”.
Gordhan was the first in the witness box at day one of the Sars commission of inquiry under Judge Robert Nugent yesterday. It was a story which was picked up by the debunked Sunday Times “rogue unit” brigade, Gordhan said, and became an issue “when it suited some people during the state capture period” and “cast all sorts of aspersions on various individuals”.
Gordhan, Pillay, and former commissioner Oupa Magashule were subsequently charged with fraud, with charges later being dropped.
Gordhan also testified he had written to suspended Sars commissioner Tom Moyane in 2015 to explain a review of the new Sars operating model suggested by consulting firm Bain Consulting, and to stop making changes until Gordhan understood them better.
Until the new model was brought in, things had been going well at Sars, Gordhan said.
Bain and Gartner Limited had billed the tax collector for a combined total of R312 569 318 for their services.
“We are required to inquire into events at Sars from April 1, 2014, to March 31, 2018. We need to understand what happened in Sars during that period and the best departing point is to know what the position was in April 2014,” Nugent said to Gordhan.
Nugent said he would call Gordhan back to testify at a later stage about events which occurred during his tenure as minister of finance.
Poor corporate governance, a low level of service, internal corruption, poor transparency and a lack of accountability were some of the problems Gordhan encountered when he started.
“Enforcement was an absolute key. If there was no risk of you being detected you would never comply,” said Gordhan.
In 1999, Gordhan established an “intelligence unit” which analysed data of criminal investigations of tax and customs cases.
In 2002, Gordhan noted Sars brought about the “Woodmead Unit” which later became the National Enforcement Unit. It also started the Special Projects Unit which “handled significant cases”.