Ex Sars commissioner Oupa Magashula admits impropriety and says resigning was one of the hardest decisions he’s had to make.
When he told his wife and family that he was going to resign this week, Oupa Magashula took the most difficult decision of his life.
The SA Revenue Service (Sars) commissioner quit after being roasted for inappropriate conduct by an inquiry into his off-the-books offer of a R700 000-a-year job to a 28-year-old woman.
Magashula agreed to resign after the probe that was set up by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan found that he had acted inappropriately in his “unprofessional, over-intimate and almost haughty” telephonic job offer to Nosipho Mba.
The inquiry was appointed on the heels of a City Press exposé of the job offer and Magashula’s relationship with convicted
drug dealer-turned-police informant Panganathan “Timmy” Marimuthu.
The conversation with Mba, a member of Marimuthu’s charismatic church, was conducted on Marimuthu’s cellphone. Laden with sexual innuendo, it was recorded illegally by SA Police Service crime intelligence operatives and later used by Marimuthu – who has been implicated in raiding the crime intelligence informer fund – to intimidate business rivals.
The inquiry had found that Magashula had “placed the reputation of Sars at risk” through his offer to Mba “by misleading Gordhan, his deputy Ivan Pillay and the inquiry itself and by his extended interaction” with Marimuthu.
Marimuthu, a Durban businessman and convicted Mandrax dealer, had been under audit by Sars at the time the recording was made.
The inquiry said it viewed the entire saga as an attempt to blackmail Magashula and gave him the option of falling on his sword, which he did ahead of Gordhan’s briefing on its findings on Friday.
“I accept the finding that I did not live up to the standard of conduct expected as a commissioner of Sars. It is my responsibility to the institution which I put seven and a half years into,” Magashula told City Press yesterday.
“I had an inappropriate conversation with Miss Mba which I really regret. It is not acceptable for a commissioner of Sars to have that level of banter with a person who they do not know. I also regret that I have put the minister in such an untenable situation.”
Magashula said his experience was a “harsh lesson” in conduct for public and private sector leaders. “In retrospect, I was very naive and not careful enough about who one meets.
“I had no idea Marimuthu was a convicted drug dealer. He was with (former police commissioner) Bheki Cele. I was 18 months into my tenure and naive.”
He added: “When I spoke to my wife and family about my intention to resign, it was the most difficult decision I have had to make. But it was the correct thing to do to resign. It was the honourable thing to do.
“Sars is a very important institution, more important than the commissioner.”
Magashula said other government wrongdoers should accept responsibility rather than drag out legal proceedings and try to avoid responsibility.
“I could have dragged the whole process out and caused a very traumatic process for myself and the institution, but didn’t.
I accept this as a very harsh leadership lesson that I have to take. When we make mistakes we must be big enough to accept, take lessons from them and correct that behaviour and be happy that we didn’t make fatal mistakes,” he said.
Marimuthu told City Press that he was an “innocent man” and denied any wrongdoing in introducing Mba to Magashula over the phone.
He said his drug conviction had happened 25 years ago.
“I am just an innocent man trying to do a day’s work. I don’t do tenders. I simply heard him (Magashula) talking about wanting young black accountants and I introduced them. That’s all I did,” he said.
Cele’s spokesperson Vuyo Mkhize said the claim that he had introduced Magashula to Marimuthu was “the funniest thing the general has ever heard”.
“Beside laughing about it, he (Cele) has nothing to say.”
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