During the day of January 22, 2015, an exasperated Adrian Lackay, then the experienced and respected spokesperson for the South African Revenue Service (Sars), walked into his boss Tom Moyane's office and demanded: "What is your endgame?"
By then Moyane had presided over an unprecedented exodus of senior staff, which included the organisation's deputy commissioner, a number of group executives and several executives.
55 senior Sars staff left during Moyane's tenure
Lackay, who was increasingly frustrated with the way he had been sidelined in the management affairs of Sars, waited for an answer until Moyane threw up his hands in the air and replied: "To clear the air!"
To this day Moyane — who was appointed to the position as commissioner of Sars by President Jacob Zuma in September 2014 — has not explained to Lackay what he had meant. By the time Lackay, who served under former commissioners Pravin Gordhan and Oupa Magashula, left Sars in February 2015, a total of 55 senior Sars staff members left the organisation -- all during Moyane's tenure.
Lackay wasn't aware then that Moyane was in possession of the Sikhakane Report into the so-called Sars rogue unit until the media made enquiries. He was also not informed about the suspension of the whole of the Sars executive or the suspensions of deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay or senior executives Johann van Loggerenberg and Pete Richer.
He was fed-up, anxious and had to do his job "like a boxer with one hand tied behind his back", he testified during his Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration hearing on Thursday.
Lackay is taking action against Sars for constructive dismissal. He claimed that he was forced to leave the revenue service after it became "untenable" to associate himself with the goings on at the organisation. He resigned in February 2015.
A clear picture picture of Moyane's Sars — vindictive, secretive and at times farcical — emerged
"I went to see Moyane and asked why he suspended Pillay and Richer, why a statement had been issued about it and why I wasn't informed. I do not recall him having given me an answer that was either meaningful or useful," Lackay told the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) on Thursday.
Lackay's first day of cross-examination on Thursday, a clear picture picture of Moyane's Sars — vindictive, secretive and at times farcical — emerged.
Lackay explained to CCMA commissioner Joyce Nkopane how Moyane, shortly after his appointment, moved his office to another building without notifying Lackay. And this was during the time when he was receiving a deluge of media enquiries about the Sunday Times' now-discredited reporting about the existence of the so-called rogue unit.
Sars' former spokesperson, who testified he has a close relationship with Gordhan (his office used to be 30 metres away from Lackay's), used to have ready access to the commissioner and senior executives where they would regularly discuss relationship management and replies to difficult media enquiries. When Moyane arrived, that access all but disappeared.
"We became aware that Moyane moved offices from the Sars headquarters to another building nearby. Whenever I had to see the commissioner from then on, it was by prior arrangement and after having gone through two security checkpoints, escorted by security," Lackay explained.
A combative — and at times aggressive — Advocate Wisani Sibuyi told Lackay he believes he simply refused to cultivate a relationship with his new boss
Not only did Moyane remove himself from the executive offices at Sars' headquarters, Lackay testified, but it became impossible for him to get information and guidance from Moyane — which, given how previous commissioners dealt with him, was quite a departure.
Lackay was blindsided by media enquiries about internal events he knew nothing about, even when he did get prior warning that the Sunday Times was about to publish more stories about the rogue unit and its alleged management in a brothel. Moyane refused to help manage the crisis.
A combative — and at times aggressive — advocate Wisani Sibuyi told Lackay he believes he simply refused to cultivate a relationship with his new boss and that he in fact never explained to Moyane what he (Lackay) needs from his boss.
"Show me an email where you asked for information and where Moyane did not reply?" Sibuyi asked.
Sars' crucial role in South Africa's governance firmament is undisputed. It has over the years established a reputation as one of the state's most efficient and admired institutions.
When Lackay rattled down the instances where he was kept in the dark — Van Loggerenberg, Pillay, Richer, the Sars executive — Sibuyi replied by insinuating those issues weren't requests for information.
"The commissioner isn't a minor to whom you have to explain everything," Lackay bristled and added other instances where he pertinently went to the commissioner "to seek guidance and authorisation" on how to deal with the media, particularly in relation to the Sunday Times' rogue-unit reporting.
Sars' crucial role in South Africa's governance firmament is undisputed. It has over the years established a reputation as one of the state's most efficient and admired institutions. It plays a crucial rule in anchoring South Africa Inc's balance sheet and is responsible for the state's revenue stream.
It is however also a prime target in the ongoing state capture-assault.
Moyane's admission that his arrival at Sars is "to clear the air" should therefore be taken seriously. Just ask the 55 departed senior executives.