The crazy story behind the appointment of the SARS IT head

SARS Chief Officer for Digital Information Services and Technology, Mmamathe Makhekhe-Mokhuane made headlines in October after an embarrassing interview on SABC.

In the interview, Makhekhe-Mokhuane displayed no real knowledge about SARS’ IT systems and tried to divert the conversation to other topics.

When the interviewer tried to get the discussion back on track, Makhekhe-Mokhuane now famously replied: “Mam, can you give me protection from yourself.”

Her testimony before the Nugent Commission was equally disastrous and was described as “rather disturbing” by Judge Robert Nugent.

“In the fifteen months of her tenure only one strategy meeting has been held. Of the eleven meetings with her subordinates she attended only four,” Nugent highlighted.

He added that there has been no material development of the information technology systems since the departure of her predecessor.

“We think it is manifest that she does not have the capacity to take control of SARS information technology,” Nugent said.

He added that the aggressive, indecorous, and unusual manner in which Makhekhe-Mokhuane gave evidence was not appropriate for a person in her position at SARS.

How Makhekhe-Mokhuane was employed

Considering Makhekhe-Mokhuane’s lack of experience and knowledge about SARS’s IT systems, it raises questions as to how she passed a high-level IT interview process.

The Nugent Commission’s final report sheds light on the process which led to Makhekhe-Mokhuane’s appointment.

On 21 July 2016 former Sars commissioner Tom Moyane sought approval to appoint Makhekhe-Mokhuane from then Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan.

It appears the documents went astray, because the application was replied to, with apologies, on 15 December 2016.

The Minister pointed out that while the Commissioner decides on who to appoint to a post, the Minister must approve the terms and conditions of employment.

He asked for a copy of her proposed contract, and added the following note: ‘In addition to the above the panel of interviewers did not have anyone with IT experience.’

Nugent said the panel for the appointment of Makhekhe-Mokhuane appears to be remarkable for a candidate whose function would be to take charge of SARS’ multi-billion rand information technology systems.

“Information technology at SARS is not confined to servicing the core-business. It is the very heart of SARS’ core-business,” he said.

Only one person on the panel had qualifications in information technology, but there was none with exposure to the SARS technology.

“Moreover, Makhekhe-Mokhuane’s qualifications and experience bear little relationship to the complex information technology she would be required to manage,” Nugent added.

“I have difficulty seeing how these panels could be said to have been a ‘reasonable cross functional team, representative of the functional department’, with sufficient diversity of experience and skills to appoint top management of a large and complex organisation.”

Strange claims about the appointment

When faced with questions as to why commission should not find the appointments to have been unlawful, Teboho Mokoena, SARS’s Chief Officer: Human Capital and Development responded with an affidavit.

Nugent described this affidavit as “disappointing, because the responses are all an exculpatory afterthought”.

Mokoena, for example, said the Minister had ‘noted and approved’ the appointments, including that of Makhekhe-Mokhuane.

“That is not correct. The memorandum did not ask for ministerial approval for the appointments, as Mokoena well knows. It asked only that the appointments be noted,” Nugent said.

Makhekhe-Mokhuane had already been appointed at the time the memorandum was placed before the Minister.

Mokoena sought also to justify the lawfulness of the appointments on the grounds that the Minister had raised no queries in relation to what was placed before him.

“It is unfortunate that a senior employee of SARS should justify misleading information being placed before the Minister on the basis that it was not queried,” Nugent said.

Huge salary increase

What is even more surprising than the absence of SARS IT executives in the interview process is the huge salary increase which followed soon after Makhekhe-Mokhuane’s appointment.

Shortly after her appointment it was recommended that the remuneration at which she was appointed, R2,207,078, should, at her request, be increased by 42.23% to R3,139,126.

That big salary increase was approved by Moyane the following day.

Nugent said it is concerning that salaries could be increased so significantly just for the asking.

Now read: The head of IT for Sars has failed epically in a live TV interview

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The crazy story behind the appointment of the SARS IT head