The Former Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba was vague and noncommittal when he took to the stand at the Nugent Commission of Inquiry on Friday, trying to distance himself from the problems experienced at the South African Revenue Services (Sars), while stating that he had little idea of what was going on with the day-to-day running of the organisation.
Among other issues, Gigaba was questioned on the details of a trip taken by suspended South African Revenue Services commissioner Tom Moyane to Moscow in November 2017, to meet Russian tax authorities.
A letter sent to evidence leader Advocate Carol Steinberg on Wednesday from SARS acting commissioner Mark Kingon about the trip states that the organisation’s international relations team was not aware of it, calling the “circumstances and secrecy” of the trip “suspicious.”
Gigaba appeared uncomfortable as he told the inquiry he was informed at the time that the trip was urgent and that he expected feedback from Moyane upon his return.
“If there was anything wrong about the trip that came to my attention, I would have then taken action. I had no reason to suspect something was not right,” Gigaba said on Friday, adding however that he never received any feedback from Moyane about the trip.
“I think the commissioner should be required to provide details,” said Gigaba when pressed for what he knew. “I myself would be keen to know what was the purpose of the trip.”
Gigaba, who was the minister of finance from March 31, 2017, to February 27 this year, also admitted to having had concerns surrounding governance at the organisation while he was minister of finance, but his testimony revealed little else.
Confronted about how much he learnt about problems in Sars’ leadership structures at the time, Gigaba was vague.
“The problem arises when I, in executing my responsibilities, think that I will not listen to the other person and work with them,” Gigaba said, seemingly making a general statement about leadership and management.
“The leadership is the fulcrum around which everything revolves,” Gigaba continued. “At all times we have to be able to explain ourselves and account to various institutions, as you are a servant of the public.”
When asked whether Moyane himself had related any problems at the revenue service to Gigaba, he says he did raise concerns, adding that he met with various Sars employees who brought up problems there.
“Ultimately, I felt that we needed to propose a commission,” Gigaba added.
He said this decision came after he noticed that Sars did not have a good relationship with the National Treasury and he believed a commission of inquiry would investigate allegations, establish veracity and propose changes if necessary.
He conceded that maladministration at Sars contributed to a revenue collection shortfall, but added that the poorly performing economy was also a factor.
Current finance minister Nhlanhla Nene is also expected to testify before the Nugent commission.