Senior SARS employees and the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) planned to “spike” a story that the Mail & Guardian was due to publish on the alleged relationship between SARS commissioner Tom Moyane and President Jacob Zuma.
This was revealed in the second day of Adrian Lackay’s testimony in an arbitration hearing before the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). Lackay is arguing that his working conditions became unbearable amid allegations by Moyane that an illegal, “rogue” spy unit had been set up by senior officials.
Lackay, who was employed for 11 years at the South African Revenue Service as its spokesperson, has claimed that he was forced to leave after it became “untenable” to associate himself with the goings on at the revenue service.
He resigned in February 2015.
Lackay told the CCMA commissioner on Tuesday morning that his deputy spokesperson, Marika Muller, had attended a meeting at the GCIS after the Mail & Guardian had sent questions to SARS, indicating they were investigating Moyane’s relationship with Zuma.
Present at the meeting were senior SARS officials.
Lackay had not been invited, however, he testified that Muller wrote a report for him after the meeting ab out what had been discussed.
‘Most underhand tactic you can use’
He explained that to “spike” a story, a media house would be given a “no comment” response to its questions. And then, while the paper was being printed, a general press release would be released to all the media houses, disputing all the allegations.
“You are trying to undermine the newspaper and, ultimately, its integrity,” Lackay said.
“This is the most underhand tactic you can use. It would be hugely detrimental to the relationship with the media. Not only the Mail & Guardian, but other media would also frown on this,” Lackay said.
But SARS had never used this tactic, he claimed.
Lackay said that Muller had also advised him to get a lawyer, because it had been discussed in the meeting that he was a problem.
He had denied the rogue unit allegations and it was agreed that he should be moved to another department. In the interim, the GCIS would help SARS with a crisis strategy.
Lackay also told the CCMA that he had not been consulted or informed when senior employees Johan van Loggerenberg, Peter Richer and deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay were suspended and the media releases issued.
‘I was completely shocked by his action’
He said that when Van Loggerenberg was suspended, he was not informed by Moyane. Instead Moyane spoke to Muller about the public statements that needed to be made on the suspensions.
“I was completely shocked by his action, and confused,” Lackay said. He could not understand why he was not getting any information on very serious events, and “it appeared Moyane had more confidence in my deputy than in me”.
He said that, ordinarily, the communications department would work as a team and he would be the key person for media and communications.
Lackay said that, ultimately, the general practice was that SARS draft statements would be approved by the commissioner and the exco, and finally a memorandum or proposal would be sent to the office of the finance minister.
It was highly unusual for his deputy to be consulted without him on a matter of such importance, Lackay said.
On December 5 2014, when Pillay and Richer were suspended, Lackay said he had no idea what was happening until Muller sent him a message in the afternoon.
“The first word to me about the statement was a frantic message from Muller asking where I was, that all hell was about to break loose, and she needed help. I then called her.”
He was told that a statement had been drawn up about the suspensions.
‘This statement was huge’
Muller had been told she was not allowed to make changes to the content and she should get approval from the finance minister’s office before sending it out to the media.
“This statement was huge,” Lackay said. “I was shocked.”
He was not told why he had not been included in the drafting of the statement.
Lackay said that not being informed of something like this was unprecedented. He had always been informed and consulted. One example was when previous commissioner Oupa Magashula was suspended.
Lackay said that when a statement was released like this, a spokesperson could expect “an avalanche of calls”, and they had to be completely prepared.
“I was concerned that it would become obvious to journalists that I had been left out of the loop, or that the new commissioner associates me with the officials he suspended, or with the allegations of a rogue intelligence unit.”
His testimony continues. – News24