PARLIAMENT – Police Minister Nathi Nhleko on Wednesday defended the Hawks against accusations that a list of questions it sent to Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan just days before he delivered the country’s 2016 budget was meant to distract and discredit the man in control of South Africa’s purse strings.
While insisting that Hawks investigators were just doing their jobs in investigating the existence of a “rogue spy unit” within the SA Revenue Service (Sars), Nhleko said the fact that Gordhan was sent a list of questions did not mean he was the subject of a probe.
“The fact that questions would have been sent to an individual does not mean that that individual is necessarily facing investigation …,” Nhleko said while addressing a a media briefing on the probe by the country’s elite investigating unit into “Sars’s so-called Rogue Unit”.
Nhleko said Gordhan had informed the Hawks that he would miss the Wednesday deadline of responding to the Hawks’ questions.
“I’m informed for example that you know an extension has been asked to respond to those questions precisely because of the workload he’s [Gordhan] basically faced with and that’s where it is.”
Nhleko said he did not know if a new deadline had been set.
The police minister sketched the background to the Hawks’ investigation, saying it started its probe in May last year after Sars commissioner Tom Moyane laid a complaint with the police after several reports indicated there was “prima facie evidence” that among others that the unit abused its power and overstepped by doing what the country’s intelligence agencies were mandated to do.
The unit was accused of spying on influential South Africans, including President Jacob Zuma.
Just days before Gordhan tabled South Africa’s 2016 budget in Parliament, he was sent the list of 27 questions by the Hawks – a move he said was aimed at distracting him.
Responding to allegations that the timing of the questions to Gordhan was suspect, Nhleko said: “It would be incorrect to expect that police officers must then behave like politicians because they can’t …”
He said if police officers started concerning themselves with the political timing of their investigations “we (as a country) are heading for trouble”.
Nhleko said between 2009 and 2014, while Gordhan was finance minister, the Sars unit spent almost two million rand on equipment and assets, including eavesdropping equipment. The Hawks, he said, were investigating whether the unit was authorised to buy and use such equipment.
State Security Minister David Mahlobo, who was present during the media briefing, said the law prescribes which state institutions had the authority to use certain equipment, insisting “not everyone can have a jammer”.
“Indeed the equipment Minister Nhleko presented are equipment of intelligence … without a doubt,” said Mahlobo.
“A determination is going to be made on were they in the rightful hands of authorised people.”
Nhleko shot down “perceptions” that the letter from the Hawks to Gordhan had caused a rift between the finance minister and President Zuma.
“It is perception and perception can’t be fact … unless you establish that as a fact of course so I do not know where indeed that comes from … I don’t know why it has to be lumped together with this picture created of the minister of finance versus the President …”
A few hours after the media briefing, Gordhan, while responding to oral questions in the National Assembly, also downplayed reports of tensions with Zuma.
“All cabinet ministers and the deputy president serve at the President’s pleasure, so how do you have a war with your employer?” Gordhan asked.
“We talk every day. We work everyday. I’m still here and the key is to ensure that we create the right climate both on our side and your [opposition parties] side in order that we can say to 55 million South Africans that all of us are working in their interest. As far as Treasury is concerned, it’s in very safe hands.”
Gordhan also took a veiled swipe at tax chief Tom Moyane just days after it was reported that Gordhan had given Zuma an ultimatum that either the Sars commissioner goes or he resigns, telling MPs: “Our job is to ensure that whoever is the incumbent in Sars understands what executive accountability means and we’ll certainly hope to resolve this in the near future.”
Tensions between the minister and the commissioner became more visible during budget week when Moyane was absent at post budget briefings usually attended by the finance minister, his deputy, officials from the Treasury and the SARS commissioner. When asked about Moyane’s absence, Gordhan said there were issues at SARS that needed to be resolved and would be done so within a couple of weeks.
Moyane further irked Gordhan by proceeding with a restructuring plan at SARS, even though the finance minister instructed that it be halted soon after he was appointed.
Moyane was appointed by Zuma to replace Oupa Magashula in 2014. The revenue collecting organisation saw a number of resignations by executives in 2014 and 2015 following the probe into the unit.
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