Chilling testimonies by former bigwigs at the South African Revenue Service (Sars) painted a picture of a ruthless "dictatorship" run by suspended commissioner Tom Moyane and his then deputy, Jonas Makwakwa.
They alleged Moyane and his right-hand man ruled with an iron fist, instilling fear in employees, overseeing disinformation campaigns, and rooting out anybody who stood in their way.
The testimonies were given in front of Judge Robert Nugent and his panel tasked to investigate issues with governance and tax administration at Sars. Their focus is on the mass exodus of senior staff members during Moyane's tenure.
Makwakwa tried in many instances to instruct her on how to handle the tax affairs of various high-profile people.
Former Sars deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay, the institution's former spokesperson Adrian Lackay and other senior officials were some of the employees, both current and former, who told their stories over the seven hours for which the inquiry sat on Thursday.
Clear through 3 days of #SarsInquiry that Jonas Makwakwa, an alleged money-launderer, was running SARS. This after he was found stuffing millions into ATM's.— Ferial Haffajee (@ferialhaffajee) June 28, 2018
This is how Moyane and Makwakwa ruled over Sars, according to the testimonies:
Makwakwa the intrusive
Makwakwa's name was mentioned in every testimony on Thursday.
By January 2015, there were threats to charge me, allegations that I peddle information to the media from Moyane — then the instruction from Makwakwa saying that other people will now speak publicly for Sars.Former Sars spokesperson Adrian Lackay
Makungu Mthebule — former group executive of corporate legal services and former acting chief officer of strategy enablement and communication at Sars — said employees feared Makwakwa.
She described how she told Moyane at an exco meeting that there is a culture of fear within the organisation which mostly centres around Makwakwa. But importantly, what had the audience gasping at her testimony was why Makwakwa was feared.
Mthebule alleged that Makwakwa, who was only a group executive at the time, would harass both her and staff in her unit for information regarding high-profile taxpayers.
One of Mthebule's roles was to oversee the VIP unit that deals with the sensitive and confidential tax affairs of political parties, ministers, politicians and even the president — at the time, Jacob Zuma.
Mthebule testified that Makwakwa tried in many instances to instruct her on how to handle the tax affairs of various high-profile people, which she apparently refused to do.
We all owe Ivan Pillay and other former SARS officials a massive apology. We as a country owe them.— Kyle Cowan (@CowansView) June 28, 2018
And we owe those responsible to. But it's to be determined what exactly we owe who.#SARSInquiry
Chief officer for enforcement Gene Ravele also testified that it was Makwakwa who instructed that all inspections at cigarette factories come to a stop. This was after allegations surrounding Sars' high-risk investigations unit, infamously dubbed the "rogue unit" in what now appears was a fabricated smear campaign, came to light.
The disinformation campaign
Former Sars spokesperson Adrian Lackay claimed Moyane ran a "disinformation campaign", making false statements to the media without Lackay's knowledge.
Lackay recalled a few instances between December 2014 and February 2015 — when he resigned — that made working conditions "intolerable".
Lackay alleged that information was deliberately being withheld from him, resulting in him issuing wrong or factually incorrect statements to the media.
He said other media statements, including that which announced Pillay's resignation, were sent without his knowledge.
Lackay described the so-called 'rogue unit' as 'concocted nonsense'
"I felt that my working conditions were becoming intolerable basically because information was being kept from me... There was a very active disinformation campaign being driven in the media... [in which] confidential internal Sars information — taxpayer information — [was] selectively leaked to the media," he said.
"By January 2015, there were threats to charge me, allegations that I peddle information to the media from Moyane — then the instruction from Makwakwa saying that other people will now speak publicly for Sars."
Lackay described reports on the so-called "rogue unit" in Sars — which resulted in the suspension of Pillay and other senior officials — as "concocted nonsense".
The purging of enemies
Pillay spent most of his testimony defending the high-risk investigations unit, which arguably was the starting point from which Moyane launched his attack on senior Sars officials. We know now that numerous reports which implicated Pillay and a number of senior officials have been proven incorrect.
"There is a pattern of behaviour. They determine that someone is to be removed, and then they go after them. They hire professionals, most times, who are prepared to do these things. They just let nothing get in the way of what they want to do," he said.
Former SARS Chief Officer for Enforcement, Gene Ravele says there was never a "Rogue Unit" at SARS. He says there was a high risk investigations unit which helped the SARS Enforcement division and even the NPA in pursuing criminal investigations.— SAfm news (@SAfmnews) June 28, 2018
"We have recorded a pattern of attacks on Sars. The first intelligence dossier started in 2003, and every year or so we received another one, which gets sent to newspapers and politicians. For most of the time we've managed to defend ourselves against those accusations... By 2013, I'd said already that the storm is coming. The signs were there."
Ravele, to whom the fabricated "rogue" unit reported, had similar sentiments.
He resigned in 2015 after criminal charges of fraud and corruption were opened against him — and later dropped.
"The NPA refused to prosecute because there was no evidence. The case was built for the media. They make you sign a non-disclosure agreement, then they leak the information to the media and you can't respond. My wife (who also works at Sars) was treated like a casualty. They started leaking stories to the media about her... My 'guilt' maybe was that I was seen to be aligned to Pravin Gordhan. People [who] were seen to be aligned to me after I left went through the same process," Ravele said.