Who's to be SARS Commissioner?

Down to the wire, it ends up as a fight about race.

As Noseweek went to press, former SARS enforcement chief Gene Ravele was on the final shortlist of four contenders being considered for permanent appointment as new Commissioner for Inland Revenue – which is today probably the most critically important position in the public service. If SARS is not honest and ultra-efficient in the collection of tax, all other departments and functions of state are imperilled. Less cash all round.

That being the case, readers – and the selection panel – would be welladvised to reread Noseweek’s profile of “Two-faced Ravele”, published in our March issue (nose233, free access online for this month only). And now this:

In a confidential 2014 report to then Commissioner of SARS, Tom Moyane, Ravele offered some frank opinions on the Revenue Service as he saw it.

Gene Ravele

Ravele claimed that former deputy Commissioner Ivan Pillay was seen by many as “anti-African, or being part of a neo-liberalist tendency hell-bent on emasculating the African man”.

He said Johann van Loggerenberg “was always in a privileged position, [because] he enjoyed a special relationship with IP [Ivan Pillay], like that of father and son. In IP’s eyes JvL was the guru, the go-to guy when the going got tough; the highest performer in SARS!

“IP once said in my presence ‘no darkie performs as highly as Barry (Hore) and JvL do in SARS’. I took him on and said JvL reported to me and that is not what the performance results were showing.”

Barry Hore, then SARS’s chief operating officer and former chief executive for operations and technology at Nedbank, had “brought with him a huge contingent of white males, former Nedbank employees,” claimed Ravele. “Some of his white employees have been imported from Australia, the UK, US, Netherlands, etc. Some of these recruits, albeit coming into SARS at lower grades, ie 5b, 6, were given remuneration packages that exceeded even those of senior executives.

“Barry is quoted as having said: ‘If good brains come white, why shouldn’t I hire them?’”

Hore ran SARS’s modernisation programme, which Ravele told Moyane had cost just under R5 billion. Claimed Ravele: “Most of this money has been paid to BB&D and Accenture. Most of these contracts are extended by a mere ‘Exemption from Normal Tender Process’ and other service providers are not given a fair opportunity to compete for business.”

[A SARS Strategic Assessment dated 2 June 2015 prepared by Gartner Consulting stated that SARS’s modernisation agenda, which involved replacing Oracle with a new service provider, was driven largely by a single individual (Hore) and a R100m contract was awarded to BB&D on exemption. By June 2014, said the assessment, SARS had spent “approximately R1bn on BB&D services and approximately R3.997bn on modernisation.” Despite allegations of fraud and an investigation by the Hawks, no charges ever reached court. Asked to comment at the time, then finance minister Trevor Manuel, who approved the SARS modernisation agenda, said: “I won’t respond to rubbish.” – Ed]. Ravele said that when he raised the issue of Hore’s “empire” with Magashula the then Commissioner said: “Bring me a black person who can deliver what Barry has delivered in 18 months and I will let Barry go. Stop sloganeering about affirmative action and employment equity! Who do you think runs National Treasury? Do you think it’s Lesetja [the Treasury’s then directorgeneral Lesetja Kganago]? You are wrong, my friend, it is Andrew Donaldson [the Treasury’s senior technocrat who took early retirement in 2017 after more than 20 years’ service] and those white economists who run National Treasury.”

But that doesn’t mean we should happily allow our institution at SARS to be run by white males, countered Ravele. Magashula, he said, became very upset, saying ‘You are being very reckless, my friend. Who the hell do you think you are to tell me what to do? If you hold those views then you need to carefully decide whether you want to be part of this organisation. You are on a dangerous path to selfdestruction’.”

(Barry Hore, whose portfolio made up some 80% of all SARS’s operations, resigned at the end of December 2014, following the suspension of Ivan Pillay and Peter Richer over the rogue unit affair.)

Legal and Policy Division, said Ravele, was one of the most untransformed areas in SARS. “It is whitedominated and previously disadvantaged employees find it difficult to work in this division. The environment is extremely hostile and is not supportive of PDEs.”

Bob Head, acting chief financial officer (purged by Moyane; became chief financial officer at South African Airways) hailed from the UK, where he was CEO for Old Mutual Wealth Management. Ravele claimed that Head’s SARS employment package included four Business Class flights a year from Johannesburg to London and back for himself and his wife.

“Both appointments and remuneration packages were resisted by the then Chief HR officer Ms Elsie Pule, but overruled by Oupa,” claimed Ravele. “This was, amongst other factors, the catalyst for Elsie’s resignation from SARS.”

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