'Protect me from yourself' SARS IT head at home on 'discretionary leave', with little clarity on why

2019-04-01 06:32
Mmamathe Makhekhe-Mokhuane. (Supplied)

Mmamathe Makhekhe-Mokhuane. (Supplied)

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For the past five months South African Revenue Service (SARS) IT head Mmamathe Makhekhe-Mokhuane of "protect me from yourself" fame has been at home on "discretionary leave". 

While she was informed that she brought the revenue service into disrepute following her interview on the SABC's Morning Live during which she uttered the now infamous phrase and her appearance before the Nugent inquiry, she has received no official clarity, she says. 

News24 has seen a letter written by her lawyers addressed to acting commissioner Mark Kingon. In the letter, Makhekhe-Mokhuane wants to know if she has been placed on suspension or if she is being investigated for any wrongdoing.

She claims she does not know whether she has been placed on suspension pending the institution of a disciplinary inquiry against her. 

READ: Sars IT head Mmamathe Makhekhe-Mokhuane bizarre SABC interview goes viral

Her lawyer, Moeketsi Thebe Raselo from MT Raselo Incorporated, said Makhekhe-Mokhuane had been placed in the "dark as to your exact reasons for demanding that she be placed on extended and indefinite leave – a conduct we view as a wasteful and fruitless expense".

Makhekhe-Mokhuane confirmed the letter to News24 but refused to comment further. 

Asked for comment, SARS said: "Kindly note that according to SARS' HR policies and practices, internal processes and information related to its employees [are] deemed confidential between the organisation and its employees, and are thus not discussed or divulged in the public domain.

Raselo said Kingon's conduct as the acting commissioner was "in violation of our client's constitutional and labour rights". 

In October last year, South Africans reacted with outrage, disbelief and concern for her health after a video of Makhekhe-Mokhuane speaking to Sakina Kamwendo on Morning Live went viral.

At one point, Kamwendo asked what needed to be done to fix the tax body's IT infrastructure and Makhekhe-Mokhuane responded: "Ma'am, can you give me protection from yourself?" Kamwendo and others in the studio are heard laughing at her comment.

City Press also reported on perplexing comments she made when addressing the Nugent commission of inquiry into the tax service in October last year.

When offered the chance to inspect minutes apparently showing she had not attended many SARS meetings, she reportedly responded: "I have a very rare eye disease, but let's try."

The newspaper also reported that when she was asked to give clarity on what she had said in her affidavit, confusion ensued when she cited the date on which the Drakensberg Boys Choir was established and later dropped the analogy. 

Ambushed with questions

But in the letter, Raselo states that when Makhekhe-Mokhuane appeared on Morning Live she was asked questions about things which she had no knowledge of and/or were not part of what should have been discussed with her.

"Simply put, our client was ambushed with questions, she could not properly reflect upon and was expected to provide answers on the said spot. 

"It is evident that given the fact that the programme was live, our client was placed in an awkward position as she was expected to answer the aforesaid questions.

"That notwithstanding and under protest, our client attempted to the best of her ability to respond to the said questions," the letter reads. 

Raselo said when Makhekhe-Mokhuane appeared before the Nugent inquiry, she was "surprised" to be asked about various meetings that she had allegedly failed to attend. 

Health affected

The lawyer accused the Nugent inquiry of seeking to portray his client as an "incompetent leader".

"Once again our client fielded questions from the commission to the best of her ability," he said.

"Our client instructs us that thereafter, she came to learn that there were incessant talks of her performance at both the commission and the SABC. 

"These talks resulted in her taking time off from her work as they affected her health and resulted in her being hospitalised for days from 30 October 2018," he said.

ALSO READ: Sars IT head apologises for conduct during interviews

"Our client instructs us that while at the office you communicated to her that her conduct at both the SABC and the commission had brought SARS into disrepute as [it] raised serious concerns about her leadership of DIST (digital information services and technology) and impacted on SARS' reputation."

Raselo says on October 29, 2018, the revenue services appointed Tau Mashigo to act in his client's position. 

"Our client was not aware of this appointment nor the reasons thereafter. She was never informed that her services were to be suspended. 

Unfair practice

"This appointment constitutes an unfair practice in that you have no authority, without first suspending or dismissing our client, to appoint an acting chief officer while our client had presented herself to work pursuant to the lapse of the week you afforded to her." 

Raselo said Mashigo was appointed without Kingon giving his client the opportunity to make any representations.  

"Your conduct amounts to a unilateral alteration of the employment contract between SARS and her, if not an outright suspension of our client for an indefinite time period," he said. 

Raselo also added that his client was informed that SARS had obtained opinion that found that she had brought the tax body into disrepute and that this had resulted in a loss of trust and confidence in her executive leadership.

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