A culture of fear, suspicion, and intimidation took hold of Sars during the term of suspended commissioner Tom Moyane, the Nugent commission of inquiry heard on Tuesday. On the second day of its hearings, the commission looking into governance failures at the revenue collector reportedly heard from current and former Sars employees, many of whom were highly skilled people who were either sidelined or pushed out.
The commission also heard how Sars' revenue collection abilities took a nose dive under Moyane and of allegations that Sars began withholding tax refunds owed to taxpayers to make its books look better.
According to Business Day, former Sars officials said their workstations were monitored by cameras and their telephones were bugged.
Sars group executive for tax public education, Sobantu Ndlangalavu reportedly told the commission that there was an incident when all the trees at the Sars campus in Pretoria had been cut down because they were a security risk.
"A week or so later we wake up and there are cameras all over the campus, even on top of vending machines," he said, according to the Mail & Guardian.
There was also an exodus of employees, with the total headcount at Sars declining from 14,000 people when Moyane arrived at Sars in 2014 to 12,600 employees now, Business Day reported.
A massive restructuring process undertaken when Moyane took over seemed arbitrary and "malicious", some witnesses reportedly said. The former head of the Sars large business centre, Sunita Malik reportedly described how the centre was dismantled during the restructuring process, even though it had been built according to international best practice.
Manik, with over 20 years' experience at Sars, reportedly said she found out that she was replaced when she received an email announcing the appointment of her replacement.
Former Sars chief operations officer Barry Hore reportedly told the commission that the Moyane era had cost Sars about R142-billion in uncollected tax, according to the Daily Maverick. He reportedly said that the revenue income figures were manipulated under Moyane to make Sars' books look better. Sars was allegedly illegally holding on to VAT payments.
Manik reportedly said she suspected the same thing.
The commission continues on Wednesday.