Investigate journalist Jacques Pauw has released a report in the Sunday Times alleging that the recently released report by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane finding Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan had violated the constitution is far from “damning” – a term used to describe it in the media so far – and is in fact sloppily investigated.
Particularly, Mkhwebane’s sources are called into question, with the article focusing on a former Sars employee described as an “unemployed, dope-smoking Rastafarian” who Mkhwebane presented as a “specialist agent” at Sars but who told Pauw he wasn’t part of the so-called “rogue unit” or even a spy, as the public protector alleged.
Mkhwebane’s report alleges that Keletso Bizoski Manyike spied on taxpayers and politicians, bugging their phones. She also suggests that he received paramilitary training.
However, Manyike told Pauw she must have been “confused”, that he had “no real knowledge” of the goings on of the “rogue unit” and that Mkhwebane was “completely wrong” about his role at Sars.
At the revenue collection service, he was actually a law interpreter in the legal administration and policy division, before moving over to debt collection, as well as being Nehawu’s shop steward for Sars in Gauteng.
It appears his involvement in Mkhwebane’s investigation was as a result of a complaint he lodged with the public protector after he was demoted in 2014. This was attached to a 2010 dossier compiled by former Sars official Michael Peega, making claims about the “rogue unit”. Mkhwebane allegedly confused Peega’s claims with Manyike’s, and ended up not even mentioning Peega. She allegedly failed to actually interview or corroborate either man’s claims.
In response to Pauw’s report, Mkhwebane’s spokesperson Oupa Segalwa told the Sunday Times the office of the public protector will “defend the matter in court, where reviews of her decisions are dealt with, and not in the newspapers”.
The full story is available in the Sunday Times.
The report, which has led to the credibility of Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan being questioned, has led to an ugly battle between him and Mkhwebane.
Gordhan issued an urgent application to interdict the implementation of her remedial action contained in the report, which found he had violated the constitution and was involved in “maladministration, corruption and improper conduct by the South African Revenue Service (Sars)”.
His language in the application reveals his fury at the report’s findings.
“There is no legal or other obstacle to Sars establishing and operating a variety of investigation units to strengthen tax compliance and enforcement. This is in accordance with international best practice,” Gordhan stated. “The investigating unit lawfully established by Sars investigated tax rogues. There is nothing rogue about its establishment.”
Gordhan called the “persistent claim to the contrary” a lie and “fake news”.
“It is a falsehood that is repeated and repeated and repeated by some in the hope that someone will believe that there must be something there,” Gordhan said, calling Mkhwebane’s report “irrational, unreasonable, unlawful, unconstitutional and invalid”.
“It is a baseless, defamatory, scurrilous and false claim made by those who wish to defeat our constitutional project,” he said.
Gordhan said in his affidavit four reports of Mkhwebane had been overturned in judgments “scathing of her comprehension of her constitutional role, grasp of the law and ability to act without fear, favour or prejudice”.
Gordhan said it was clear the two reports Mkhwebane had issued against him, together with “prominent” participation from the Economic Freedom Fighters, formed a pattern of “state capture” which was now part of a backlash against a “renewal” project.
Mkhwebane hit back in a statement from Segalwe, slamming Gordhan’s “emotive language and personal insults and blatant lies” .
“Advocate Mkhwebane also noted the application to have the report reviewed. She accepts that a review is part of the prescribed process available to aggrieved parties to challenge reports emanating from her office,” the statement said.
“However, Advocate Mkhwebane wishes to record her disappointment at how the court application is cloaked in the indignity of personal insults. She will only comment on the facts of the matter as engaging in the personal insults is below the dignity of the high offices of responsibility which she and the minister occupy.”
Mkhwebane said she would be defending the matter.
“It is our considered opinion that the emotive language and personal insults and blatant lies or innuendos are meant to divert attention from the real issues and the findings,” Mkhwebane said.
(Compiled by Daniel Friedman based on Pauw’s Sunday Times report and with background reporting by Amanda Watson, originally contained in the story ‘The knives are out between Mkhwebane and Gordhan‘)