Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan will meet with Public Protector Busiswe Mkhwebane on Wednesday after being subpoenaed to answer questions around the retirement and reinstatement of a former top SARS official in 2010.
Lawyers for the minister, in a statement on Saturday, said that Mkhwebane was involved in a preliminary investigation into allegations that were similar to the fraud charges that Gordhan faced in 2016 when he was the subject of a criminal investigation by the Hawks.
These allegations concerned the early retirement of former top SARS official Ivan Pillay and his subsequent re-employment by the tax agency as deputy commissioner in 2010. At the time then-Minister of Finance Gordhan referred to the case as "no more than a bit of political mischief".
The charges against him were withdrawn by the National Prosecuting Authority on October 31, 2016.
But Gordhan’s lawyers said that, after the charges were withdrawn, a complaint against the minister was lodged with the Public Protector in late 2016. They did not say who lodged the complaint.
“ [...] it was alleged that the approval by Minister Gordhan of Mr Pillay’s early retirement amounted to maladministration, dishonest and improper conduct by the Minister in dealing with public funds," said his layers in the statement.
Mkhwebane sent a letter to Gordhan on February 5, 2018 asking for his response.
“We wrote to the Public Protector on 16 February 2018, expressly stating that we require that we be provided the particulars and evidence of the alleged dishonesty and impropriety on the part of Minister Gordhan,” wrote Gordhan’s lawyers in a statement.
“To date, such evidence and particulars have not been provided, but for a letter from the Office of the Public Protector dated 28 February 2018, indicating that the Office was in the process of conducting a preliminary investigation as contemplated in section 7(1)(a) of the Public Protector Act, 1994.”
The Office of the Public Protector did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Gordhan’s lawyers said that, while they were considering whether they were obliged to respond to the Public Protector in view of the fact that no evidence or particulars had been provided, the Public Protector “proceeded to issue a subpoena on 01 October 2018 for the Minister to appear before her on 14 November 2018”.
“Any communication that suggests that Minister Gordhan has not responded to the Public Protector’s enquiries between February and July 2018 – or that ‘responses were not forthcoming’ - is simply deceptive, false and incorrect. The Minister is yet to receive any particulars and/or evidence of maladministration, dishonesty or impropriety referred to in the Public Protector’s initial correspondence of 5 February 2018 and her subpoena of 01 October 2018,” they said.
His legal team said that Gordhan would "nonetheless appear before the Public Protector in response to the subpoena".
The Public Protector has wide-ranging powers to collect evidence when conducting an investigation. According to the Public Protector Act, Mkhwebane may "direct any person to submit an affidavit or affirmed declaration or to appear before him or her to give evidence or
to produce any document in his or her possession[ ...]"
State Capture Inquiry
On Thursday, the day after Gordhan meets with Mkhwebane, he is set to testify before the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture. Last week a copy of his statement leaked to the media. In the statement Gordhan said that the charges brought against him in late 2016 appeared to be an attempt to force him to resign from his post as finance minister.
The meeting with the Mkhwebane on Wednesday is separate from a recent complaint lodged with the Public Protector against Gordhan by the EFF. It is not yet known whether Mkhwebane will be pursuing the EFF's complaint.
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