South Africa


SARS mop-up under way as two key executives placed on precautionary suspension

Judge Robert Nugent at the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on June 9, 2012 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Simphiwe Nkwali)

The cleanup at SARS is starting to kick in, seven months after the release of the final report of the Nugent Commission of Inquiry into Tax Administration and Governance.

On Wednesday 31 July SARS announced it was placing two key executives, Hlengani Mathebula and Luther Lebelo, on precautionary suspension pending the finalisation of disciplinary processes with regard to allegations of serious misconduct.

In March and September 2017, Mathebula released media statements, penned by Lebelo and signed off by the then SARS commissioner, Tom Moyane, attacking Judge Dennis Davis, chair of the Davis Tax Committee. This followed comments Judge Davis had made at a conference in Cape Town in 2017 on tax evasion and illicit financial flows that was organised by the Alternative Information Development Centre.

The statements by Mathebula and Lebelo claimed Judge Davis had fabricated evidence and had made himself “party to a systematically orchestrated narrative” intended to undermined Moyane’s leadership.

The media releases also stated that it was “of paramount importance to note that it would seem that Judge Davis has for some time now behaved in a manner that could be perceived as advocating a veiled strategy to mobilise a possibility of a tax revolt by taxpayers against the State”.

During a media conference two weeks before the issuing of the media statements by Mathebula and Lebelo, Moyane had claimed that the then minister of finance, Pravin Gordhan, had hindered his endeavours at SARS after Gordhan had blamed the revenue service for a R30-billion shortfall in revenue that year.

In its final report,  the Nugent Commission recommended: “Disciplinary action [should] be considered against any executive for publishing the media statements… It is further recommended that any such executive be deprived of any authority he or she might have to speak on behalf of SARS without the approval of the Commissioner.”

Mathebula was chief officer: governance, international relations, strategy and communications while Lebelo was group executive: employee relations.

SARS on Wednesday added that it had extended the suspension of Teboho Mokoena, chief officer: human capital and development.

SARS said the suspensions were “part of an ongoing comprehensive review of the whole SARS leadership by the commissioner in terms of good governance, and further, in response to the report on the Commission of Inquiry into Tax Administration and Governance by SARS, the ‘Nugent Report’.”

The precautionary suspensions are with immediate effect; however, SARS re-iterated that they did “not amount to findings of any wrongdoing on their part. A determination in this regard will only be made on the finalisation of the process”. DM