South Africa

ANALYSIS: The Fight is On: Ramaphosa’s response to Moyane’s ultimatum removes any doubt about president’s position

President Cyril Ramaphosa doesn’t do well with ultimatums. Just ask Tom Moyane, who tested the waters and got burnt. The fight between the suspended National SARS Commissioner and the President is over two months old, and in the latest round of the fight, Ramaphosa has taken a hard line, telling Moyane precisely where to get off.

On Tuesday, Ramaphosa’s legal team sent a curt letter to Moyane’s lawyers. They were responding to a letter sent to them last week, where Moyane gave them an ultimatum to meet a set of demands by Tuesday or they will meet in the courtroom. Ramaphosa didn’t cave in to a single demand, and instead hit back at some of the claims and demands Moyane has made.

In short, any talk of a settlement is off the table and Ramaphosa doesn’t even want to talk about it.

Moyane’s letter, last week, had a list of demands and accusations; most important, he wanted Ramaphosa to reconsider a multimillion-rand settlement agreement they had spoke about in their initial conversation. In one of the first meetings the pair had, Ramaphosa asked for Moyane’s resignation and in lieu he would have been paid six months’ salary; later in the negotiations the offer was increased to a full year’s salary. (He currently earns around R3.6-million per annum.)  But that was thrown out when Moyane threatened legal action against the President. Moyane’s lawyers insisted that he should be paid according to his counter offer – that he be paid out for the remainder of the 18 months he has left in office and any bonuses due to him.

Ramaphosa hit back in his latest response, saying he won’t respond to a discussion he had with Moyane on the matter privately and in confidence. In other words, a settlement is off the cards and Moyane must face the music in the form of the disciplinary commission of inquiry headed by retired judge Kate O’Regan:

“Our client will be guided by these findings and recommendations regarding any further decisions that may be taken against your client,” the letter reads.

While at first Ramaphosa may have wanted to settle the matter quietly, with Moyane throwing the first punch, the President is ready to go all the way. He now wants Moyane to be dragged to the commission where he will be under oath and under spotlight, which is bound to end up badly for the suspended SARS commissioner.

Settling makes no sense for Ramaphosa, not any more.

One of the other demands Moyane made was that the state should pay for his legal fees. Essentially, he wants the taxpayer to foot the bill of his defence team, which, we know, comprises of at least one very expensive senior counsel, Dali Mpofu, whose other job is the National Chairman of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

Moyane’s lawyer wrote to the President:

“It is patently unfair that the President should use taxpayers’ money to prosecute his case‚ but the Commissioner‚ who collected the said taxpayers’ money‚ should be expected to fend for himself using his own thanklessly and hard-earned income and family resources.”

Ramaphosa would not have it. He said SARS has no policy of authorising the funding of legal representation for an employee in disciplinary inquiries.

“The proposal that the State should pay your client’s legal expenses is accordingly refused,” the legal letter reads.

It is unheard of that after such a high-level suspension in relation to serious allegations of wrongdoing, government should have to pay for the opposing side’s legal fees.

Moyane also claimed that the commission of inquiry set up by Ramaphosa is procedurally flawed and unfair against him. Again, the president punched right back, saying Moyane, as an accused, could not determine his own disciplinary process:

“Your client has no right to dictate the process to be followed,” Ramaphosa’s legal team wrote.

Moyane, additionally, wanted Ramaphosa to change the terms of reference of the commission. For some reason, he didn’t want the inquiry to be paper-based, arguing that it is unfair. Moyane has argued that the procedure was flawed and unfair and wants witnesses, including Ramaphosa, to be able to make oral representations to the commission. Through the letter, Ramaphosa said that Moyane has been charged, and will soon get an affidavit which substantiates those charge to which he will respond in writing.

“This process is not unfair and is in fact a standard way in which motion court proceedings are conducted,” the letter reads.

Further, Ramaphosa’s legal team notes, its up to O’Regan to decide if she wants to hear oral arguments.

On Tuesday, Moyane’s lawyer Eric Mabuza was still waiting for Ramaphosa’s response. He said they would have to study the response before deciding whether they want to go to court or not. Before the latest letter, Moyane's team suggested that they may take the matter up in the ConCourt, which is more often said than done. It will be interesting how they respond and whether Moyane would continue this side fight with Ramaphosa to evade the O’Regan commission.

It is now clear that Ramaphosa is hell-bent for Moyane to face the might of the law for his alleged wrongdoing. It is almost as if Ramaphosa wants Moyane to regret not taking the first settlement deal of six months’ salary up in lieu of his resignation. The suspended SARS commissioner appears to have made a bad error in judgment when he delivered the first salvo of threats to Ramaphosa. Now it’s too late for both men to retreat into a settlement.

If Moyane believes that he is not guilty of the 12 charges he faces, he must state his case. For Ramaphosa the evidence is enough – ultimatum or not. DM

Qaanitah Hunter is an EWN reporter.