Trevor Manuel says his court battle with the Economic Freedom Fighters is not only to clear his name, but also to protect the integrity of National Treasury and the SA Revenue Service.
The former finance minister filed a founding affidavit at the high court in Johannesburg on April 10 against the EFF, the party’s leader Julius Malema and its national spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi in response to a claim by the EFF that he is a relative of new SARS head Edward Kieswetter, and that the two had a close business relationship.
In court papers Manuel states he filed the application to “vindicate” his reputation and that of the SARS selection panel that recommended Kieswetter for the job, and protect the integrity of Treasury and the revenue collection agency.
“I am as concerned about the harm the [EFF] statement does to the Treasury and SARS. The South African public should be disabused of the idea that the Treasury conducted a less than rigourous and honest process and that Mr Kieswetter is not the best person to head up SARS,” he said.
Manuel chaired the selection panel that interviewed candidates for the post of the tax agency’s new commissioner. The agency had been without a permanent head since Tom Moyane was suspended and later fired.
In late March Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announced that Kieswetter, a former head of Alexander Forbes, had been appointed as the new SARS boss. Treasury has made the report from the selection panel available on its website.
Before Kieswetter was confirmed the EFF put out a statement calling into question the credibility of the appointment process, alleging that interviews were conducted in secret to disguise the fact that Manuel was related to Kieswetter, and the pair were close business associates. Manuel at the time called for a retraction of the statement which he described as “racist” and “libellous”.
‘Defamatory and false’
Manuel wants the court to declare that the EFF’s allegation that he acted unlawfully and with nepotism in the appointment of Kieswetter is “defamatory and false”.
In addition to the EFF retracting its statement and apologising, he is seeking that the EFF pay damages, including his legal fees, for the reputational harm he endured.
In court papers Manuel denied the EFF’s claims. “I am not related to Mr Kieswetter. Nor is he my business associate. I acted lawfully, impartially and in the best of interests of SARS while discharging my duties as chair of the panel.”
He also referenced the panel report which indicates he recused himself from interviewing Kieswetter, who worked as deputy SARS commissioner when Manuel was finance minister. He declared to the other panel members that the they had remained on “friendly” terms.
Manuel acted as an observer in the interview and did not pose questions to Kieswetter, according to the report.
‘Casts aspersions on my character’
Manuel said that the EFF statement implied that he conducted a “corrupt and clandestine process”.
“The statement casts aspersions on my character and integrity as well as that of Mr Kieswetter and members of the panel,” he said.
Commenting on the impact the EFF statement would have on SARS, Manuel said its reputation would “suffer if it were thought to be led by a person who was appointed because of nepotism”.
Manuel argues that the EFF is an influential party, as are its leaders. The fact that Malema retweeted the statement on platforms like Twitter endorsed and extended the reach of the message beyond the EFF’s followers, he said.
“It discredits not only me but the whole panel, the Treasury and the institution Kieswetter was appointed to lead.”
He wants the matter to be heard before the courts as “soon as reasonably possible”, given that Kieswetter takes the helm at SARS on May 1.
“I believe it is in the best interest of SARS and therefore in the public interest, that there should be no cloud hanging over his appointment process, and no doubts as to whether he was appointed as the result of a nepotisitic process,” he said.
Fin24 approached the EFF for its answering papers but was told these were still in the process of being filed.
The party previously argued it was only subjecting Manuel to legitimate public scrutiny. “We are ready, and our lawyers are on top of it. We already said this,” said Ndlozi on April 12. “The bully Manuel will not succeed in silencing us, particularly from subjecting him to the scrutiny that all who are in public institutions have to stand up to.”
(Source: Fin 24)