SARS Inquiry hears how Jonas Makwakwa tried to meddle in VIP taxpayer affairs

Jonas Makwakwa (SARS)
Jonas Makwakwa (SARS)

Disgraced former SARS chief operations officer Jonas Makwakwa actively tried to interfere with the tax matters of high-profile or VIP taxpayers - to the indignation of other tax officials, who claim he had "no business" instructing individuals how to deal with these tax matters.

Makwakwa allegedly contacted then-acting chief officer for strategy, enabling and communications Makungu Mthebule on a number of occasions to instruct her to deal with high profile individuals' tax matters in a certain way – and also made numerous requests to staff in the VIP tax unit for information relating to certain taxpayers.

Mthebule instructed her staff to refuse – and herself refused to comply with Makwakwa’s "instructions".

Mthebule was appointed to act in then-suspended deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay’s position and worked closely with Commissioner Tom Moyane.

But by her own admission she was vocal in trying to bring to the fore the issue of the "culture of fear" at SARS, which led to a level of conflict.

Her complaints to Moyane over Makwakwa's interference with the VIP taxpayer unit were never dealt with, she said, and in fact may have been a contributing factor to her not being appointed permanently in the position.

But Mthebule was also not reappointed in her previous position that she held before being asked to act in Pillay’s place, as a group executive in the legal division. She had applied, as instructed and in line with the new restructuring process undertaken by under Moyane’s leadership, but was unsuccessful in her attempts to secure both positions.

For the next 15 months Mthebule says she was sidelined to the point that she read books and newspapers while at work – mostly with little or nothing to do.

Despite this, she received a generous 30% performance bonus (with the letter handed to her personally by Moyane) in August 2017. In July, she had received a generous annual increase and received a performance-based increase of roughly 3% in September.

'Very extraordinary'

"It was very extraordinary for me," Mthebule told the inquiry. "I felt it may have been given to me because maybe the Commissioner [Moyane] regretted what had happened to me – but I felt it may have been a way to get me to shut up and stay quiet."

Effectively, Mthebule was 'fired' from two positions in one day, she testified – as she was notified that her application to take over Pillay’s position and the application she made for the position she held before were both unsuccessful.  

"Things changed very quickly after Mr Moyane came in. It didn’t affect me immediately but I could see it happening," she said.

She is still with SARS and despite being a highly qualified attorney, has little to no job function.

"Mr Makwakwa was maybe given too much power...or allowed to have too much power," she said in response to questions over Makwakwa’s interference in tax matters.

"The lines were blurred," she added.

Another former SARS official, Bernard Mofokeng, former group executive for dispute resolution, testified that under the restructuring process, the position of a senior manager in his office was 'deleted' – the only position in his department to have this happen.

The same manager was involved in a grievance process with the girlfriend of Makwakwa, Kelly-Ann Elskie, after the manager accused her of not having the appropriate qualifications to be in the position she was occupying. The manager also accused her of being in an extra-marital affair.

Elskie, it emerged, was romantically involved with Makwakwa. During the grievance process it emerged that Elskie did not, in fact, have the requisite qualifications.

Mofokeng testified that he believed the senior manager position was removed due to this incident and that he himself was sidelined as a result of the incident with Elskie.

The inquiry continues, with former deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay currently testifying.

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