THE battle lines between South African Revenue Service (SARS) commissioner Tom Moyane and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan have been drawn starkly with the continued leaking of internal SARS documents to the media contributing to the tension between them.

The conflict will be another test of Mr Gordhan’s credibility and authority. He has already taken a stand against South African Airways (SAA) chairwoman Dudu Myeni. Mr Moyane and Ms Myeni were appointed by President Jacob Zuma and both are pushing the limits of their powers against Mr Gordhan.

Mr Gordhan has made it clear to Mr Moyane that he wants the media leaks to stop, as they undermine the stability and good reputation of SARS.

The Sunday Times reported on Sunday on two crucial leaked documents — one a KPMG report on the “rogue” SARS unit and the other on a legal opinion obtained by Mr Moyane on his powers vis-à-vis Mr Gordhan.

According to the newspaper, Mr Moyane sought legal advice on whether he needed Mr Gordhan’s approval for his restructuring plans that Mr Gordhan halted shortly after his appointment, pending an evaluation of their implications.

The legal advice obtained by Mr Moyane was that he was not required to seek ministerial approval for his new operating model and for deployment and control of staff as long as it was within the law. Mr Gordhan did not have powers to intervene in these matters, the opinion said.

However, Mr Moyane’s bid to entrench his independence could be stumped by the powers given by the act to a specialist committee established by former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene under the SARS Act to guide the direction of SARS’s long-term strategy. Retired Judge Frank Kroon was appointed to chair the committee.

When Mr Nene established the committee in February last year, he noted that “while SARS and the commissioner are reasonably independent of the minister on operational matters, the SARS Act also provides that SARS is ‘under the policy control of the minister’ and ‘subject to any directives and guidelines on policy matters issued by the minister’”.

The act stipulated that the powers of a specialist committee appointed by the minister “may not be construed as interference with the powers assigned to the commissioner”.

“The committee’s primary task will be to guide the direction of long-term strategy at SARS by ensuring that decisions about the revenue and customs authority’s operations, personnel, budget and technology support its long-term strategy and plans.”

Meanwhile, it is not clear from developments at SAA whether Ms Myeni and the airliner’s board are toeing the Treasury’s line.

It emerged at the weekend that the SAA board had its sights set on the possible suspension of SAA human resources GM Thuli Mpshe unless she adequately addressed by the close of business on Friday allegations against her. The Treasury, which has oversight over SAA, has to be informed of any planned removal of executives.

SAA spokesman Tlali Tlali said yesterday that Ms Mpshe had not been suspended.