ANC pressure has forced President Jacob Zuma to act decisively to end a damaging power struggle between Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his tax chief that has battered the rand, increasing the likelihood of a downgrading of the country’s credit rating.
Yesterday Zuma, accused of using SA Revenue Service commissioner Tom Moyane to wage a proxy battle against Gordhan, acknowledged the rift between the two men but stressed that the minister ”remains the minister of finance” and that his job was not on the line.
Reports that Zuma and Gordhan were in conflict were “a total fabrication and mischievous sensationalism,” the Presidency said.
Barely an hour earlier the Hawks said it was not investigating Gordhan ”per se”, over a ”rogue unit”, formed at SARS while he was tax commissioner in 2009, that had allegedly spied on politicians and others, but was merely seeking his assistance.
It emerged last week that, days before Gordhan delivered his Budget speech, the priority crimes investigation unit had sent him 27 questions relating to the SARS unit and had instructed him to deliver his response by hand by tomorrow.
The revelations – and Gordhan’s disclosure that Moyane, a Zuma loyalist, had flouted his instruction to halt the restructuring of the revenue service – hammered the rand on Friday amid concerns that the minister would lose his job.
The collapse of the currency – and the ruling party’s intervention in the debacle – are both eerily reminiscent of events in December when Zuma fired Nhlanhla Nene and appointed an ANC backbencher as finance minister before being forced to reappoint Gordhan.
Last night the rand strengthened to R15.77 to the dollar at 6pm, after plummeting to R16.23 on Friday.
Yesterday senior ANC insiders told The Times the party had to step in and provide direction. ”We could not allow this conflict to collapse the state. That is why we had to take charge and impress upon the president about what needs to be done,” one leader said.
”If not handled properly the state will collapse and this will lead to our people taking to the streets. We can’t afford that, not at this time when our economy is on its knees.
”While the president can’t interfere in the work of state institutions, he, however, is expected to provide leadership.”
The party’s intervention follows fierce criticism of the Hawks’ actions by ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe who on Friday questioned the timing of the police unit’s questions to Gordhan, suggesting that it was ”an effort to destabilise the economy”, but Zuma’s office dismissed ”rumours and gossip which insinuate some conspiracy” against the minister.
On Sunday the SACP joined the ANC in supporting Gordhan.
Yesterday, the Presidency said: “Media reports demanding that the president should summarily dismiss the SARS commissioner or interfere with the work of government agencies are unhelpful.
“There are prescripts within government which stipulate the processes to be utilised to resolve labour-relations issues or disputes …”
It said the difficulty in the relationship between Gordhan and Moyane ”is being dealt with through the correct channels using the correct legal prescripts”. Zuma had begun discussions with Gordhan and Moyane ”long before the State of the Nation address and Budget 2016″, the statement said.
The Hawks earlier dismissed as “unsubstantiated” reports that Gordhan was the target of its investigation, arguing that “it is not in the interest of justice when matters under investigation are blown out of proportion and in the process victimising certain individuals”.
The unit said: ”We can confirm that as the Hawks we are investigating a case concerning the alleged illegal operations by a so-called ‘rogue unit’ within the SA Revenue Service, not Mr Gordhan per se.
“Mr Gordhan was the commissioner at SARS at the time the covert unit was allegedly established. As part of our thorough investigations into the operations of the said unit we needed some clarity and Mr Gordhan … was the suitable man to talk to, hence we sent him a set of questions.”
Frosty relations between Gordhan and Moyane follow the latter’s insistence on restructuring SARS, which Gordhan had helped turn into a world-class institution.[Source: Times Live]