Former Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba has told the Nugent Commission of Inquiry that he signed off on a mysterious trip the now suspended Commissioner of the South African Revenue Service (Sars), Tom Moyane, took to Russia in November 2017, even though the Commissioner did not explain what the purpose of the trip was.
It also appears that proper procedures weren’t followed.
Gigaba said he usually did not ask for details when permission was requested for such trips, as he expected that a report would be submitted after the trip detailing its purpose.
“I relied on the integrity of the person and never thought that the person would provide me with wrongful information.”
If it later transpired that the information provided to him was wrong, disciplinary action would be taken, he said.
Details of Moyane’s mysterious trip to Russia came to light on Friday when evidence leader Carol Steinberg read a submission made by acting Commissioner Mark Kingon. According to the submission, Moyane on November 18, 2017 requested urgent approval to travel to Moscow, Russia from November 18 to November 23.
Moyane signed the request on November 17, and Gigaba approved it on November 18.
According to Moyane’s request, there was an “urgent need” for him to meet with the head of the Russian Federal Tax Service to collaborate and sign off on “a tax matter.”
“I am available to discuss this matter in detail if the minister wishes.”
Standard protocol dictates that when the commissioner travels internationally, a request would either be received from a foreign jurisdiction or if Sars wants to visit a foreign tax authority, its international relations team would initiate a request for the visit, detailing the background. Once confirmation of the invite is received, the foreign travel submission is prepared, which provides detail to allow the Minister to approve the request. No bookings can be made before Ministerial approval is received. On completion of the trip, all the costs must be disclosed, and a report must be provided to the minister.
According to Kingon’s submission, ministerial approval was granted for the trip with almost no information regarding the purpose of the trip, apart from the reference that Moyane had to “sign off on a tax matter”.
The trip was signed off on the same day as the travel.
Kingon said the international relations team in Sars was not aware of the trip, the ministry had no further information and an effort to obtain input from Moyane had been unsuccessful.
“I have asked various parties in Sars as well as his office and they are not aware of the trip or its purpose.”
Kingon’s submission continues: “I would like the commission to note the fact that the circumstances and secrecy of this trip are very suspicious and if no specific matter was addressed, such expenditure is fruitless and wasteful and would be in breach of the PFMA [Public Finance Management Act].”
Gigaba said he agreed that Moyane had to provide detail on this trip, but said since the trip was urgent, and some of these tax issues were confidential and weren’t explained in submissions, he signed off on it with the expectation that a report would be submitted afterwards.
“If Sars itself was not aware [of the trip] and there are no reports that are available… I myself would be keen – like the acting commissioner – to know what was then the purpose of the trip, where was the trip going to and therefore necessary procedures must be undertaken to ensure that such information is availed and the resources are claimed back,” Gigaba said.
The minister said he did not get feedback from Moyane after the trip but did not have any reason to doubt the authenticity of the request.
“I think in the period between November and March, a lot was happening. Preparations for the ruling party conference, preparations for the budget. I got preoccupied with those things and the report pertaining to this [trip] would have slipped through during that time.”
Gigaba said after these events he would have had time to request the reports of these trips, but he didn’t because the cabinet reshuffle – during which he was moved to another ministry – took place shortly thereafter.
President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed the Nugent commission in May as part of an effort to stabilise Sars, restore its credibility and strengthen its capacity to meet revenue targets. The Commission is expected to provide an interim report to Ramaphosa by September 30.
Moyane was suspended in March 2018 amid allegations of misconduct.