After Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane released a report finding that Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan irregularly approved the early retirement of Ivan Pillay from the South African Revenue Service (Sars) while finance minister, he has said he will be taking it on review.
The public protector directed President Cyril Ramaphosa to “take appropriate disciplinary action” against Gordhan, finding that his approval of Pillay’s retirement amounted to “improper conduct” and was a violation of the constitution.
The commissioner of Sars at the time, Oupa Magashule, was directed to “set in motion steps to recover the money” paid by Sars on behalf of Pillay.
Sars was also expected to introduce “regulations, policies, and practices which are clear and unambiguous relating to early retirement and staff retention”.
The allegation that Gordhan irregularly approved early retirement for Pillay was “substantiated”, according to Mkhwebane’s report. Gordhan acted beyond his legal authority by approving Pillay’s retention, the report found.
Magashule, meanwhile, made the recommendation to Gordhan for the approval of Pillay’s early retirement without downscaling of his retirement benefits, which led to the payment of the “additional liability by Sars”, which the report found amounted to “irregular expenditure”.
The announcement of Mkwhebane’s findings was made at a media briefing on Friday afternoon, a day before Ramaphosa was due to be sworn in as president.
He is expected to announce his Cabinet in the coming days.
Mkhwebane’s findings on the Pillay matter resulted in her release of a report on one of three separate issues involving Gordhan.
The other two involve an issue relating to tenders while Gordhan was Sars commissioner and, controversially, allegations surrounding the establishment of a “rogue unit” while Gordhan was commissioner of Sars that are believed by some to have been debunked.
Gordhan on Friday slammed Mkhwebane’s findings. His lawyer, Tebogo Malatji, said Gordhan took issue with both the haste and the timing of the release of the report.
“The complaint involves complex considerations of pension fund laws in as far they relate to public servants. It is doubtful whether due consideration was given to Minister Gordhan’s submissions,” Malatji said in a statement.
“The haste and the timing of the Public Protector shows a complete disregard for a an important constitutional event for our country, the inauguration of the President of the Republic of South Africa.”
Malatji said he and senior counsel had advised Gordhan the “the Public Protector’s findings are totally wrong both in fact and in law. Our submissions to her office, dated 22 May 2019, seem not to have been taken into account” and that Mkhwebane announced her findings a little under 48 hours after it had been received.
In 2015, the press ombudsman ruled that the Sunday Times must retract all stories on the “rogue unit saga” and to apologise to Pravin Gordhan as well as others implicated after Gordhan, former Sars deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay, and former Sars executive Johann van Loggerenberg lodged a complaint.
Mkhwebane and Gordhan have been involved in an ongoing battle over her investigations.
Earlier in May, she wrote a letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa asking him to intervene, Business Day reported at the time.
In the letter, Gordhan is once again accused of trying to “interfere” with her investigation, an accusation Mkhwebane has made previously.
According to Mkhwebane, Gordhan’s “conduct throughout these investigations” has not been “protective and helpful towards the public protector to ensure its independence and impartiality”.
She has requested that Ramaphosa “intervene” in the matter, declaring Gordhan’s behaviour “at odds with … the constitution”.
In April, Mkhwebane subpoenaed Gordhan, his lawyers confirmed at the time.
Mkhwebane gave the minister until April 23 to hand over all evidence relating to his alleged establishment of a “rogue unit” at Sars during his stint as its commissioner. She later extended this deadline to May 3.
Gordhan’s spokesperson Adrian Lackay called the subpoena evidence of “persistent harassment of Minister Gordhan and a flagrant abuse of office”.
(Compiled by Daniel Friedman)