20/03/2018 17:37 SAST | Updated 20/03/2018 17:37 SAST

Former Sars Execs 'Ready To Go Back'

Adrian Lackay, Sars' former spokesperson, says there are a number of old hands who would be willing to help rebuild the institution.

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Adrian Lackay says a number of former Sars executives are ready to return to the tax collector.

Adrian Lackay, who resigned as spokesperson for the South African Revenue Service (Sars) in 2015 after being sidelined by Tom Moyane, says he and many of his former colleagues are champing at the bit to restore the institution to its former glory.

"Many of my former Sars colleagues are ready and willing to return to Sars and to help in any capacity we can. A lot of damage has been done, and there's a long road to recovery ahead. But many of us want to contribute," Lackay said on Tuesday.

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Former deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay in August 2016 outside the Hawks' offices in Pretoria, after charges were dropped against him and a number of other ex-Sars executives.

He is, however, still involved in a legal battle with Moyane and Sars. Both sued him for defamation and claimed damages of R12-million after he sent an explosive memorandum to Parliament's standing committee on finance in 2015. The memorandum detailed Moyane's actions since he was appointed commissioner by then-president Jacob Zuma in September 2014.

A number of former Sars executives and senior staff who left in the wake of Moyane's appointment in September 2014 did not want to comment on the record when contacted by HuffPost about whether or not they are willing to return. But there is much speculation that senior government officials have approached Ivan Pillay, who resigned as deputy commissioner in early 2015, to make himself available to return to Sars.

Sars has for two consecutive years under-collected. In 2015/2016, the shortfall was R30-billion, which ended up being R22-billion because Treasury had to borrow from the national contingency reserve.Adrian Lackay

Lackay left Sars in February 2015, joining a veritable exodus of experienced and senior executives who were forced out by Moyane, whom President Cyril Ramaphosa suspended on Monday night. In a letter to Moyane, Ramaphosa says he has lost confidence in Moyane's ability to lead Sars, and that he has brought Sars and the government into disrepute. "You have not been willing to acknowledge your failures or the magnitude of the consequences of your action," Ramaphosa writes.

According to Lackay, those consequences are enormous. Moyane brought in a whole new executive team, he restructured the organisation, disbanded some special units, collapsed the Large Business Centre and outsourced Sars' debt-collection functions.

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Adrian Lackay and Johann van Loggerenberg, a former senior Sars executive, in September 2016.

"Just look at the evidence: Sars has for two consecutive years under-collected. In 2015/2016 the shortfall was R30-billion, which ended up being R22-billion because Treasury had to borrow from the national contingency reserve. Then in 2016/2017, Sars under-collected by R47-billion.

"Moyane and co. have been fixated on their argument that they've collected more than R1-trillion over that period, but it's disingenuous – because what they have not said is that, in both years, Treasury had to revise the projections downwards. And the argument about the economy that is struggling doesn't work either: there was still growth, even though it was less than 1 percent per annum.

"It wasn't as dire as in 2008/2009, with the global recession," says Lackay.

The issue of Lackay's memorandum was disposed of by MPs on April 21. It was never tabled in committee.

He says he remains "disappointed" by the manner in which Parliament's finance committee dealt with his 25-page memorandum, and that neither he nor experienced Sars employees like Pillay were called to testify in front of the committee. "You would at the very least expect an acknowledgement of receipt from the committee, given the environment at the time and the contents of the memorandum. There was a phone call or two, but nothing happened. I'm still disappointed in the ANC members on that committee and in the party's study groups (on finance)."

The committee discussed Sars at seven meetings during the course of 2015, according to minutes from the Parliamentary Monitoring Group. The issue of Lackay's memorandum was disposed of by MPs on April 21. It was never tabled in committee.

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Tom Moyane, suspended by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday, with then-president Jacob Zuma exactly one year ago in March 2017.

He says the assault on Sars only became apparent later on, when other institutions such as Treasury, the Hawks, the Independent Police Investigations Directorate (Ipid) and some state-owned companies like Denel were targeted.

"Suddenly Sars was subdued, and Anwa Dramat [commander of the Hawks] and Robert McBride [head of Ipid] was also targeted. And Johan Booysen [head of the Hawks in KwaZulu-Natal] was another one. The National Prosecuting Authority was already captured, and all these other institutions and organisations also had to go."

The modus operandi in every instance was the same, Lackay says. "First some unsubstantiated newspaper headline appears. It is followed by some or other disciplinary action and a suspension, followed by a dismissal or forced resignation and new people being brought in."

The South African Council of Churches' "unburdening" report as well as academia's "Betrayal of the Promise" report were landmarks.Lackay

But the rise of civil society and an engaged citizenry turned the tide in 2016 and 2017, Lackay says, who is still employed in the so-called "finance family" as a spokesperson for the Public Investment Corporation. "We started to connect the dots, as Pravin Gordhan used to say, when organisations such as Freedom Under Law and Corruption Watch entered the fray. The South African Council of Churches' 'unburdening' report as well as academia's 'Betrayal of the Promise' report were also landmarks."

But the rent-seeker network really overplayed their collective hands when Gordhan, then finance minister, was twice charged by the Hawks in 2016. Lackay says it exposed their motives and served to rally support for the resistance.