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How Kieswetter trumped 82 applicants for top SARS job

Mar 28 2019 19:45
Lameez Omarjee, Fin24

Edward Kieswetter's qualifications, experience, management style, track record and competencies helped him secure the top job as commissioner of the South African Revenue Service, a report from the selection panel has revealed.

Fin24 has seen the panel's report to Finance Minister Tito Mboweni which details the selection process as well as why Kieswetter was deemed the preferred candidate.

The panel, appointed by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni in February this year, was led by former finance minister Trevor Manuel and included Angela Bester, Justice Dennis Davis, Sindi Mabaso-Koyana, Ismail Momoniat, Thandi Orleyn and Fezekile Tshiqi. 

They interviewed and recommended to President Cyril Ramaphosa a shortlist which included SARS Acting Commissioner Mark Kingon, Nathaniel Mabetwa, Sunita Manik, Gene Ravele, Nazrien Kader and Kieswetter.

SARS had received a total of 82 applications, which was whittled down through a stringent selection process, detailed in the report.

Candidates were eliminated for not meeting the requirements of the job advertised, for not having sufficient experience or not having the experience required for the complexity of an institution like SARS, according to the report.

Initial shortlist

A preliminary shortlist of nine candidates for interviews was drawn up. These nine individuals were subject to further checks to determine if they were interested in the position at all. Two candidates then recused themselves, one of whom was facing allegations of improper financial conduct.

At this stage, the panel narrowed the selection criteria to draw up a list for those to be interviewed. Most notably, the panel considered if the candidate had the ability to "withstand political pressure" and "promote and protect" an appropriate level of SARS' operational autonomy.

Other requirements included whether the candidate could be a turnaround specialist, if the candidate had experience in leadership in an organisation as large or complex as SARS, if the candidate had the required skills to take "tough decisions" relating to dealing with non-performing staff and making decisive changes to the organisation.

Strongest contenders

The list of candidates was then reduced to seven for interviews. Only six candidates were interviewed after one withdrew her application, the report indicated. Candidates had to prepare a presentation of how they proposed to address SARS' challenges and were questioned on this by the panel.

Three candidates – Kingon, Mabetwa and Kieswetter – were considered to be the strongest contenders following the interview process, and complied with the Nugent report's recommendations that candidates must be, or reputed to be, of "unblemished integrity", have proven experience of managing a large organisation at a high level, and must not be aligned to any constituency (or if so, renounce alliances).

The candidates went through further reference checks and competency testing, and the panel chose a candidate based on the recommendations of the Nugent report.

The recommendations were that the new commissioner be able to restore revenue collection while driving organisational change, that the commissioner have a decisive and transformative leadership style, that they should implement a succession plan, and have the ability to manage difficult stakeholder relations while withstanding other pressures.

Kieswetter emerged as the best candidate, with Kingon as an alternative option recommended to the presidency, the selection panel reported.

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