Moyane's Zumagrad

Andrew Donaldson on our SARS chief's love of lawyers, and Mboweni's dreams of bone-breaking & cabinet cutting


IT is of some concern, here at the Mahogany Ridge, that Tito Mboweni, the present finance minister, continues to dick about on social media. 

While it is true that he stays away from Twitter, the preferred platform of trolls and other toxic trawlers, his activity on Facebook suggests a man with some time on his hands, and not a lot of it spent in thought. Consider this recent posting:

“‘Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar’!! Pay your taxes and Caesar will allocate these to developmental objectives. Otherwise Caesar’s people will break your bones!!”

Mboweni clearly hadn’t noticed the warning here a fortnight ago that exclamation marks bandied about in such a manner indicate a worrying emotional incontinence.

No matter. What’s perhaps more important is that, when it comes to the breaking of bones, it is in fact Caesar’s people who should be first in line for such realignment. 

However, as the Nugent commission of inquiry into the revenue service has heard, Caesar’s people have displayed little interest in developmental objectives and instead have devoted their efforts to looking after one another at our expense.

The suspended SARS commissioner Tom Moyane is a case in point. He had until close of business on Friday to explain to President Cyril Ramaphosa why he should not be toast, as per retired judge Robert Nugent’s findings and recommendations that he is not fit to lead the revenue service and must be fired immediately.

Sadly, it’s now approaching wine o’clock and, as our inclination to sit around the wire machine awaiting news of developments in this regard is fast being supplanted by more base interests, we will have to leave it at that.

But, as is so drearily often the case in these matters, we do note that Moyane has apparently opted for a Zumagrad defence in the matter.

This may seem similar to the classic Stalingrad strategy, but it crucially differs in that it is much, much more time-consuming and infinitely more rewarding for all the lawyers concerned.

Not for nothing, you could say, has Moyane’s attorney Eric Mabuza declared that Ramaphosa will not be party to this “irrational, illogical and unlawful” attempt to axe his client. 

What’s more, Mabuza believes the Nugent commission will be considered a waste of the taxpayer’s money after the Constitutional Court has considered his client’s application to have it declared it unlawful.

It’s a bit rich — literally — to talk of wasting taxpayer’s money, especially after the commission was told that, at Moyane’s insistence, another bunch of lawyers were paid R120 000 by SARS to read Jacques Pauw’s book, The President’s Keepers, in order to determine whether Moyane had been defamed.

This is good money when you can get the work. Pauw’s book is thoroughly indexed. Go directly to page 347, and there you’ll find Moyane’s entry.

His first appearance in the book is in the introduction, on page 11. Here, along with Richard Mdluli, Berning Ntlemeza, Arthur Fraser and others, Moyane is painted as an individual who, in an ideal world, would be considered a person of interest by the police and certainly able to assist them with their inquiries.

Pauw writes that Moyane and company “will not be remembered for contributing positively to state institutions. Under their reign, crime has spiralled, thugs have walked free, prosecutions and convictions of organised criminals have disintegrated, tax collection has dropped and state revenue has decreased.”

Hmmm. Defamatory? Well, we could prattle on about fair comment, the public interest and the apparent truthfulness of such an assertion, but we are not lawyers. 

What we do know, however, is that it will take the average reader all of 30 seconds, at most, to find and get through the relevant passages on page 11.

Which, thank you very much, is several thousand rands in legal fees racked up right there, just like that.

Interestingly, and after further browsing through the index, we learn on page 82 that Moyane wasn’t even one of the 104 candidates who applied for the job after the previous commissioner, Oupa Magashula, resigned under a cloud in July 2013.

His appointment as commissioner by Jacob Zuma in October 2014 was such a bolt from the blue that it could said Moyane rose without trace into the position.

But it soon became apparent why he got the job. Within months, he’d eviscerated SARS, ridding it of virtually every single obstacle to state capture and squalid, wasteful expenditure.

Which brings us, neatly, back to Mboweni.

Perhaps it was just mischief-making but, speaking to reporters before Wednesday’s presentation of his medium-term budget policy statement, Mboweni suggested that cutting the cabinet by roughly two-thirds would rein in the ballooning public sector wage bill. This currently stands at more than R500-billion a year — some 35% of consolidated government expenditure.

He said that, should he be asked to do so, he’d advise Ramaphosa that it makes no “financial or political sense” to have a cabinet of 35 ministers, each of them with a deputy minister or even two lurking at the trough.

“If he asked me about the size of the cabinet‚” Mboweni said, “I would say preferably not more than 25 … probably 20 is more than ideal. China is a big economy and I think they have about 25 ministers or something like that. 

“We have no economically‚ financially and politically understandable reason that you can have an executive that’s up to 70 people — that’s what I would say to him.”

And many would no doubt stand behind Mboweni in this. (All the better to stab him in the back, I hear you say.) But he is correct: the less government, the better the government.

So, the 50 cent question: what to dump? What portfolios are a waste of time and our money? 

Well, off the top of my head: 

Planning, monitoring and evaluation, in the presidency (it’s the Nkosazana Proxy Zuma sop, and so goes without saying); 

Women, in the presidency (stirs zombie-like from its doldrums every August with “fresh” but nevertheless frightening soundbites from Bathabile Dlamini);

Arts and culture (or rather, let’s have a hospitality tent at the jazz festival); 

Basic education (there is none — period);

Co-operative governance and traditional affairs (King Illwill Zwelithini’s people);

Environmental affairs (good idea, so long as it doesn’t interfere with mining);

Public enterprises (“enterprise” being the joke here); 

Rural development and land reform (a really spiffing idea in a rapidly urbanising environment, but see co-operative governance and traditional affairs);

Small business development (spaza shops for all — provided, of course, no foreigners are involved):

Social development (another distraction);

Sport and recreation (notice how badly teams perform when politicians turn up for the game?);

Tourism (runs itself without help, thank you very much, from government):

Trade and industry (a good idea, maybe, but then why is it being run by Rob Davies, doctrinaire communist and all-round Spartist? Surely he’d be better off in some post office somewhere?); and 

Transport (been in a Cape Town traffic jam lately?)

Have I left anyone out? Apologies. Maybe next time…