The South African Revenue Service (Sars) has publicly apologised to several of its former employees whose lives, livelihoods and reputations were destroyed during the capture of the tax authority.
It has also paid “fair and reasonable” compensation for the infringement of their personal rights and loss of employment. Sars however acknowledged that its reparation process cannot make up for the professional and personal harm the former employees have suffered over many years.
Among those who received a public apology is former deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay, former group executive for strategic planning and risk Peter Richer, Sars executive Johann van Loggerenberg and Sars spokespeople Adrian Lackay and Marika Miller.
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Sars in flames
The extent of the harm done to them was exposed through the Commission of Inquiry into Tax Administration and Governance by Sars (Nugent Commission).
The commission found that former president Jacob Zuma and his henchmen, notably former Sars commissioner Tom Moyane, waged a war against Sars officials who were getting too close for comfort – fueled by false reports in the media.
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In his book ‘The President’s Keepers’, Jacques Pauw describes the capturing of the once world-class tax authority. “Zuma did nothing to douse the whirling flames that encircled Sars and eventually erupted into an inferno. And he didn’t just watch it happen; he commandeered Tom Moyane, sent him to Sars, and probably ordered him to stoke those fires.”
Newspaper headlines screamed about the “rogue unit” within Sars that not only spied on Zuma, but also ran a brothel and entered into illegal tax settlements. Many of the people who wanted to protect the agency were forced to quit during the Moyane years.
Loggerenberg and Lackay wrote in their book ‘Rogue, The inside story of Sars’s elite crime-busting unit’ that by April 2015 Pillay’s advisor Yolisa Pikie, and chief officer for enforcement and customs investigations Gene Ravele had left.
“The institute was haemorrhaging. Within less than six months after Moyane’s appointment, the storm we had anticipated in March 2014 turned into a howling hurricane”, they wrote.
Healing, reconciliation and remedial action
In a statement released on Thursday, Sars Commissioner Edward Kieswetter says Sars deeply regrets the hurt, pain and suffering visited upon the former employees and their families, as a result of the witch-hunt by Zuma’s keepers during 2014 to 2018.
Kieswetter appointed an independent advisory committee with Thuli Madonsela (who as public protector at the time exposed state capture and the role of the Gupta brothers in the process) and retired judge Johan Froneman in 2021.
The committee was to establish a process to foster healing, reconciliation and remedial action for all who were impacted by the false allegations levelled against them. The committee’s report was submitted in March this year and Kieswetter accepted the recommendations.
“I acknowledge the harm caused to the organisation and to those former employees closely associated with the establishment, management and operation of the investigative unit, as well as their families. I sincerely hope that with the conclusion of this procedure, the affected individuals and their families may experience a sense of closure and continue their own journey to heal and restoration”, writes Kieswetter.
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Over the past years several important developments have occurred, including a public apology by the Sunday Times – whose reports fuelled the “rogue unit” narrative – and a retraction of all their reports on the unit and its members.
The Sikhakhane report into the conduct of Van Loggerenberg and the KPMG report following an investigation into the claims about the “rogue unit” was subsequently retracted as well as the findings of the Kroon Advisory Board, which said the so-called rogue unit had been “unlawfully established”.
Sars says in its statement it recognises that both the Sikhakhane and KPMG investigations and the ensuing findings and recommendations were “deeply flawed”.
Sars has since made it clear and reiterates once again that it will not use them for any purpose. Sars recognises that these reports should not have been used as a basis for any of the actions taken against the affected participants and other Sars officials.
The tax authority further states that it failed to defend and protect its employees when the false allegations and imputations of wrongdoing surfaced in October 2014 and in the subsequent years thereafter.
“Sars hopes this reparations process brings some measure of healing and closure for the former Sars employees and their families and enables both parties to move forward constructively,” Kieswetter says in the statement.
** The following former employees have agreed to their names being made public as part of this apology: Ivan Pillay, Peter Richer, Andries Janse van Rensburg, Johann van Loggerenberg, Adrian Lackay, Pieter de Bod, Gilbert Gunn, Nkele Pitsi, Siobahn Wilson, Telita Snyckers, Charl Fourie, Gene Ravele and Marika Muller.