SARS IT boss seeks return, says source

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Mmamathe Makhekhe-Mokhuane has been on leave since October.
Mmamathe Makhekhe-Mokhuane has been on leave since October.

Mmamathe Makhekhe-Mokhuane wants to return to her post as digital information services and technology unit chief officer at the South African Revenue Service (SARS), a close source reveals.

The source also confirmed news reports that SARS offered Makhekhe-Mokhuane a four-month settlement to resign from her post.

Makhekhe-Mokhuane made headlines last year when she was unable to explain SARS's current state of IT infrastructure, or provide a clear assessment of the way forward during an interview on SABC's TV breakfast show, Morning Live. Days after, she issued an apology, saying her conduct during the TV interview and at the Nugent commission of inquiry was regrettable.

Now, almost six months after the interview, the embattled SARS IT head is still on "discretionary leave", and there is no clarity on whether she will return to the revenue service.

According to the source, the SARS IT head wants to return and participate fully in the "exciting IT work environment", adding she wants to go back "to explore technologies that will enhance SARS's revenue efforts".

ITWeb reached out to Makhekhe-Mokhuane, but she requested that all questions be referred to SARS.

SARS declined to comment on what it calls an "internal employee process".

In a statement, the tax collector states: "SARS is not in a position to comment, divulge or discuss details of internal processes and employee information in the public domain as these are confidential matters between the organisation and its employees. SARS is therefore not in a position to comment on the status of internal processes.

"Acting arrangements have been put in place in the digital information systems and technology unit, while Ms Makhekhe-Mokhuane has been on discretionary leave."

Nugent recommendations

The state of SARS's IT systems and infrastructure was thrust into the spotlight during last year's Nugent commission of inquiry, amid concerns the tax collector's systems would not be able to withstand capacity and functionality in future.

The commission's broad mandate was to investigate issues of corporate governance, whether tenders were awarded correctly and allegations of misconduct under the leadership of former commissioner, Tom Moyane.

The inquiry also probed the awarding of a R200 million IT contract to research firm Gartner and the value SARS received from this agreement.

In regards to IT processes, the commission's report recommended that the new SARS commissioner "recruit one or more suitably qualified people to take charge of the organisation's IT development and implementation strategy".

Furthermore, as SARS's digital information services and technology chief officer, Makhekhe-Mokhuane has been seemingly unable to provide direction, said the commission in its report.

The commission advised: "SARS is an information technology-driven business. Information technology plays not merely a supporting role, as it might do in other government bodies, but enables its core business. Secondly, SARS needs to be linked to the digital economy if it is to fulfil its mandate effectively. It cannot be permitted to fall behind, and should ideally be ahead of developments in the digital economy. Information technology skills in support functions, while they have their role, are not sufficient to maintain and develop SARS core systems."

Following the commission's recommendations, in his budget speech in February, finance minister Tito Mboweni revealed the revenue service is strengthening its IT team and IT systems.

Mboweni highlighted this as being crucial for the country's tax collection efforts and re-building trust at the revenue service.

BITF backing

In a letter last year, defending Makhekhe-Mokhuane, the Black IT Forum (BITF) slammed the narrative that she is an incompetent political appointment.

The BITF pointed out that she has served as CIO for various government departments since 2002.

According to a report, Makhekhe-Mokhuane started her career as a computer specialist in 1992 and progressed to the role of director for networks in the Department of Finance.

She has served as CIO of several government departments, including the Department of Transport, Department of Communications and Department of Water and Sanitation, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Makhekhe-Mokhuane is said to have several IT diplomas from a number of institutions, as well as an MBA from the University of North-West.

She also holds several professional memberships and was appointed by the minister of public services and administration in consultation with Cabinet as a non-executive member to the board of directors of the State Information Technology Agency for a period of three years.

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