Lawyers for suspended South African Revenue Service (Sars) deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay, have argued that the “unlawful” action was an infringement on his rights and could undermine the key state institution, rendering it unstable.
Pillay, who was suspended on December 5 2014 by newly appointed commissioner Tom Moyane, challenged the action in the Johannesburg Labour Court on Wednesday on the grounds that proper procedures had not been followed.
Earlier this week in a letter, Sars withdrew the suspension notice given to strategic planning and risk head Peter Richer, but said it would continue investigating allegations relating to a “rogue” investigative unit operating within the revenue service.
Accused of illegal acts
Over the past few weeks, the spotlight has fallen on the covert unit, also known as the National Research Group, which was appointed by former Sars commissioner Pravin Gordhan in 2007.
The unit has been accused of illegal acts, including spying on President Jacob Zuma, bribing informants and setting up a brothel.
The unit, initially housed in the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), was later moved to Sars after a change in its mandate.
In his founding affidavit, read out in court, Pillay said he had been called into Moyane’s office and told of his suspension based on a report of an investigation conducted into the unit by a panel headed by Senior Counsel Muzi Sikhakhane.
“Mr Pillay sent a 34-page response to the report, which in an email he [Moyane] conceded he would not read because it was Mr Pillay’s opinion. The next day [Pillay] was called into the office and informed of his suspension,” said Pillay’s advocate, Nazeer Cassim.
“In the policy governing suspension, the employee must be given a notice of intention to suspend and then given time to respond to the allegations on why he shouldn’t be suspended. Mr Pillay was not given an opportunity to be heard.”
Cassim also dismissed allegations that Pillay had established the “rogue” unit, saying it had been commissioned by Gordhan along with the commissioner at the time, Oupa Magashula.
Cassim handed in Pillay’s response to the 34-page report, but an order was made to have it removed from the public file as certain aspects of the document were not yet in the public domain.
“Should the suspension not be lifted, we would request that my client be given paid leave for the duration of his 30-day suspension, to be given a proper opportunity to be heard, to respond to written allegations [against him] and for interim relief to be granted due to unfair labour practices. Should the suspension not be uplifted,” he said.
Advocate Martin Brassey, representing Sars, said there was “nothing urgent” about Pillay’s application as “the suspension is for 30 days and is over a holiday period.”
“Mr Pillay took five days to consult with his lawyer which was thoroughly unnecessary. The idea that Sars will flounder and be unable to do its work is not true. On December 11, the commissioner, in a letter, explained the allegations,” Brassey said.
“This is to save his tarnished reputation and show that he is a good guy to the world, especially to members of the press. Mr Pillay is on a fixed-term contract so the terms of employment which were argued don’t apply to him.”
Brassey said the Sars mandate allows for research and investigations, not to follow and bribe informants, as the covert unit had been accused of doing.
Brassey said Sars would comply with granting Pillay’s request for paid leave, should the court order it to do so.
Labour Court Judge Anneli Basson is expected to give her ruling on the matter at 10am on December 18.
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