South African opposition warns against finance minister’s arrest

Cape Town, May 15 (IANS) South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) on Sunday warned against the possible arrest of Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan, saying the move would be a disaster for the country.

The arrest, if carried out, would cause an economic earthquake, the party said referring back to the sacking of then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene by President Jacob Zuma on December 9 last year, a move that created chaos at the financial marke, Xinhua news agency reported.

The Sunday Times reported that Gordhan, appointed by Zuma to replace Nene, could soon be arrested after anti-crime unit, the Hawks, reportedly handed a docket over to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for his involvement in the South African Revenue Service’s (SARS’) “rogue unit” which was allegedly spying on taxpayers during his time as SARS commissioner during 1999 and 2009.

“The timing of the rumours could not be worse and will not only cause further turmoil in the markets, but also compromise efforts to avoid a ratings downgrade in South Africa,” the DA said in a statement.

What is worrying is that authorities are reportedly waiting for the “political go ahead” before ordering the arrest of the minister and eight other officials to face charges relating to the SARS “rogue unit”, said the party.

This suggests that the investigation was politically motivated and part of Zuma’s fight back campaign and attempt to neuter the National Treasury, the Democratic Alliance said.

It said the only option, with any hope of avoiding mutually assured destruction, is to appoint a judicial commission of inquiry, in terms of Section 84 of the Constitution, to investigate all the allegations surrounding the so-called SARS “rogue unit”.

Also on Sunday, the presidency denied rumours that Zuma has made changes in his cabinet once Gordhan was arrested.

“The presidency condemns the actions of information peddlers who keep spreading rumours about alleged changes in the cabinet of Zuma,” presidential spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga said.

“Ministers serve at the pleasure of the president. He has the prerogative to hire and fire ministers at any time. Despite that, the presidency issued a statement recently communicating that there were no plans to change the finance minister,” Ngqulunga said.

The president and government are focused on the goal of uniting business, labour, government and the whole country behind the mission of strengthening the economy and reigniting growth during the current difficult economic climate, said the spokesperson.

Meanwhile, spokesperson for the NPA, Luvuyo Mfaku, also claimed that no decision has been made to prosecute Gordhan and that the matter remained under investigation.

Gordhan has said the so-called “rogue unit” was lawfully established to perform very important functions for and on behalf of SARS.

This was in line with tax laws which have always vested SARS with wide powers for the investigation of tax matters, including the investigation of crimes with tax implications, said Gordhan.

–INAS

py/vt

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