Sars inquiry gets heated as witness refuses to give evidence

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Sars
Sars

Sars’ acting chief officer for business and individual tax kicked off Monday’s leg of the inquiry into the revenue service by apologising to current and past staff, saying that an “injustice” had been done.

Fabian Murray said that he would be providing a “different narrative” to the goings-on at Sars, after being “shocked” at what he had heard during the testimonies delivered by previous witnesses who appeared before the commission.

He said the revenue collector needed collective leadership and a commissioner who was “apolitical”.

“Leadership must ask difficult questions, so that there is absolute alignment, and challenge the status quo. Not merely going with the flow to appease your boss or your colleagues. Now, more than ever, Sars needs strong leadership. Not individual leaders who are only consumed by their narrow divisional mandate or protecting their turf. Leadership that is able to transform or refine the enterprise mandate and ensure that a coherent strategy, the machinery and capabilities are in place that will enable execution and the attainment of strategic outcomes. I believe that fixing Sars starts with the appointing of a commissioner who is apolitical,” Murray said.

He also painted a tense picture of the relationship that existed between suspended Sars commissioner Tom Moyane and himself.

He said he had expressed to Moyane how he thought there was a lack of diverse views within the organisation.

“I don’t think the commissioner liked my frankness,” Murray said.

He revealed how funds were often used on non-essential expenses, and how this contributed to the lack of upgrades on the IT infrastructure currently in place.

Murray highlighted that it was not a lack of funding by Treasury, but rather that the funds were not used effectively to target high-risk areas within the organisation.

“The reality is that during the past four years a huge amount of funds that was allocated to modernise our systems we were not able to use, and therefore it was returned to National Treasury. So a part of the current shortfall in funding is a direct result of our inability to spend the allocated funds,” he said.

On the subject of irregular spending, lawyer David Maphakela was expected to testify regarding a bill of R759 000 sent to Sars for services rendered.

Maphakela, who is a lawyer himself, had provided legal assistance to head of human resources at Sars, Luther Lebelo, ahead of Lebelo’s appearance before the commission last month.

The law firm that Maphakela works for, Mashiane, Moodley & Monama, had hit Sars with a hefty R759 000 bill.

Last month, the Nugent inquiry revealed that one of the payments was for a legal opinion on Moyane’s implication in the book The Maputo Connection, which detailed events about his early life.

Fin24 reported that Lebelo signed off on lawyers’ invoices in a matter labelled as unrelated to the official duties of the commissioner or the tax service.

When he was asked to explain the legality of such a payment, Lebelo told the commission that it was not his responsibility to question the invoices, but only to ensure that the services that Sars was being billed for actually took place, Fin24 reported.

On Monday, a heated exchange broke out between Judge Robert Nugent and Advocate William Mokhari, a lawyer representing Maphakela.

Mokhari said that Maphakela was not going to appear before the commission as a witness.

A clearly irate Nugent said to Mokhari that should Maphakela not testify, he would be liable for prosecution, which Mokhari conceded to, saying he was willing to challenge it in court.

“I must say I fail to understand why an admitted attorney, as you rightfully say, should not be willing to give evidence before a commission, and I’d like to accept the invitation that you issued, which was that he has and will continue to cooperate with the commission, and the cooporation we require at the moment is that he gives evidence,” Nugent said.

Makhari had argued that an affidavit submitted by Maphakela should be sufficient for the commission to obtain evidence.

After a short recess, Lebelo appeared as a witness and he elaborated on how the bill of R759 000 was negotiated down from an initial amount of R1 million.

Lebelo also revealed how Mapakela’s legal opinion was sought over the book, The Maputo Connection, and whether Moyane could challenge what was written in the book, for a bill of R120 000.

“How do you not question paying someone R120 000 to read a book for you?” Nugent asked.

Lebelo said that Maphakela had “exceeded his mandate” and that he had contested the “exorbitant” invoice of R759 000.

Nugent ended the day’s proceedings by saying that the evidence was important and that the most important thing was the running of Sars.

The commission resumes at 9am on Tuesday.

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