Financial Mail, amaBhungane file court papers to access Zuma’s tax records

Jacob Zuma. Image credit: Flickr/GovernmentZA

The Financial Mail and amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism have launched a court application to obtain access to former President Jacob Zuma’s tax records.

The two entities filed papers at the High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday, according to a press release they issued on Wednesday.

Their application follows Financial Mail‘s request in February 2019 to the South African Revenue Service (SARS), made under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), to access Zuma’s records from 2010 to 2018.

‘Legislation is unconstitutional’

SARS rejected their request and subsequent appeal, citing secrecy provisions in PAIA and the Tax Administration Act (TAA).

PAIA does not include taxpayer information as part of “public interest,” while TAA bars SARS, as well as the media, from disclosing this information to the public.

Financial Mail and amaBhungane are now challenging the constitutionality of these provisions.

Financial Mail editor Rob Rose said, “We believe the existing legislation to be unconstitutional, as it prevents us from obtaining information on the tax status of senior members of the executive – like former president Jacob Zuma – accused of serious crimes, including being tax delinquent. It restricts our ability to disseminate this vital information to the public.”

Their application designates SARS, Zuma, the Information Regulator, and the ministers of finance and justice as the respondents.

SARS vs Public Protector

SARS is locked in a similar legal battle with Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane over access to Zuma’s records.

Mkhwebane has been investigating a complaint laid by ex-Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane in November 2017.

Maimane wanted her to probe a risk of conflict of interest on Zuma’s part following allegations that he had received a salary from a private company in his first few months as state president.

Business Day reported that Mkhwebane had issued a subpoena to SARS in October to access Zuma’s tax records, but SARS insisted that the request contravened the TAA.

SARS Commissioner Kieswetter subsequently approached the High Court in Pretoria to urgently stay the implementation of the subpoena.

However, Zuma stated earlier in November on Twitter that he has no objections to Mkhwebane obtaining his tax records.

“It must be known that I have nothing to hide. If the @PublicProtector wants to see my SARS records she is free to do so. We should not make the job of the PP difficult. If she wants my records, she must have them,” he wrote.

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