Day of drama as Gordhan, Zuma and Mantashe break the silence
IN an unprecedented move, the ANC sought to shut down leaks in SARS yesterday, claiming it had identified a mole at the institution who, it says, is part of a well-orchestrated plot to destabilise the economy.
The meltdown in relations has precipitated a looming economic disaster, with the rand falling against the dollar yet again yesterday.
In an interview, ANC national spokesman Zizi Kodwa said: “The leaks about the finance minister (Pravin Gordhan) being investigated by the Hawks are there to bring instability around our economy and people who lead [the] finance [portfolio].”
Asked who was behind such a conspiracy and leaks, Kodwa said: “It is the conduct of people around SARS and the minister, for whatever issues they have.
“It is a person in SARS, an employee of SARS. “We are meeting about it.” He was pressed for further details bit still refused to offer a name. “In fact that meeting is still on as we speak so I cannot say who they are working with or why they are doing something which in our view seeks to destabilise the country.”
Kodwa’s comments came as a dramatic day unfolded in which alleged tensions between Gordhan and President Jacob Zuma became more evident.
The ANC, Gordhan and Zuma broke their silence following reports that the minister had threatened to resign last weekend over tensions between himself and SARS commissioner Tom Moyane, who has the support of the president.
Backing Gordhan, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said it was unfortunate that there were attempts to undermine the minister’s work, to reverse the gains the economy had made and to have a destabilising effect in the long term.
Later in the day, Gordhan issued a statement saying the Hawks investigation into him was an attempt by individuals to intimidate and disrupt government institutions and destroy reputations.
Meanwhile, in a statement from the Presidency, Zuma dismissed the alleged plot against Gordhan as rumour and gossip.
“The president has noted the rumours and gossip which insinuate some conspiracy against Minister Gordhan.
“These baseless rumours and gossip will not deter or divert government from moving forward with promoting fiscal consolidation and pushing for inclusive growth and job creation,” the Presidency said.
Gordhan said the Hawks had no reason to investigate him. “I want to publicly state my version of events in relation to a letter I received from the Hawks on Thursday 18 February 2016, informing me that I must answer three pages of questions, keep the letter confidential and not interfere with ‘state witnesses’, without indicating who such witnesses are.
“I believe this was meant to intimidate and distract us from the work we had to do to prepare the 2016 Budget.”
Mantashe questioned the timing of the Hawks letter.
“We are extremely concerned that four days before the minister delivered the Budget speech, questions from the Hawks were sent to the minister.
“The timing of these questions indicates clearly there was intention to distract the minister during this important time,” Mantashe said.
“It is even more disconcerting that these questions were leaked to the media. In our view this is a well-calculated destabilisation plan with all the elements of misinformation, falsehoods and exaggerated facts.”
The Hawks investigation relates to a so-called rogue unit which, it has been claimed, Gordhan masterminded while he was SARS commissioner.
Defending the unit, Gordhan said “the National Research Group and subsequent investigative units, were legally constituted and approved at ministerial level and had done commendable work in disrupting activities in the illicit economy and raising revenue from highrisk sectors”.
He said its finances were approved and audited by the Auditor-General every year.
Kodwa also accused the Hawks of behaving like the now defunct Scorpions.
“We take exception to the investigation (of the minister) by the Hawks through the media. It is similar to what was done by the Scorpions which ran investigations through a media trial.”
Gordhan said if necessary he would “take legal action to protect myself and the National Treasury from whatever elements seeking to discredit me, the institution and its integrity”.
“I was appointed as minister by President Jacob Zuma and I serve at his pleasure.”
Political analyst Mcebisi Ndletyana said Mantashe’s statement was “an open revolt against the president and warning to him not to touch the Treasury”.
“It is a continuation of the initial reaction to [Nhlanhla] Nene’s firing.
“The ANC wanted a credible finance minister and was against the idea of getting rid of Nene.
“[The statement] was to say ‘don’t you dare do it again’. The ANC is trying to dispel the rumour that Gordhan’s position is uncertain.”
Analyst Somadoda Fikeni said Mantashe’s statement signaled that “the energy and focus of the leaders was not on the same page”.
“There are sub-textual contestations here which may seek to derail the assurance to the markets about the stability of Treasury.
“Right now any perceived lack of stability in Treasury would be too ghastly to comprehend.”
The rand fell to R16.01 to the dollar yesterday.
This story appeared in Weekend Post on Saturday, 27 February, 2016 e-Edition