If I was the SARS Commissioner
On the 23rd of September 2014, the South African government announced Mr Tom Moyane as the new SARS Commissioner. The news was welcomed by the Tax industry at large and SAIT CEO, Stiaan Klue was one of the first to react to the news, referencing Moyane’s “vast experience at the highest levels of government and public administration,” standing him in good stead for the job of SARS commissioner.
As Moyane still gets to grips with the important job at hand, we asked a number of our top tax minds to give us an idea of what they think he should be concentrating on as he takes office. Use the comment tool on this article to let us know what you would do if you were appointed SARS Commissioner and we could publish your response.
Lesedi Seforo, Tax Technical Assistant at SAIT
The Tax Administration Act has given SARS a very wide range of powers. That Act has also availed numerous remedies to taxpayers in an effort to curb some of those powers in certain instances and provide more fairness to taxpayers. The problem is, however, that there is insufficient guidance from SARS regarding the specific channels taxpayers can use to enable them to take advantage of these remedies at a practical level. If one wants to utilise a certain remedy provided for by the Act, who does one call or email at SARS? This is a problem even tax practitioners are having.
SARS is very good at drafting practical guides which provide very detailed guidance on how to do certain things. If I was the Commissioner for a day I would begin the process of formulating a SARS guide listing all the remedies available to taxpayers in terms of the Tax Administration Act and coupling that with the contact details of the different SARS offices that deal with that particular remedy. This would provide much need clarity, transparency and accountability to the whole process. Right now things are rather informal. One may send an email to a certain generic address or drop a letter off at a branch. The problem is that one does not know who that correspondence is going to and when to expect a response. This has left taxpayers exasperated. A SARS Guide addressing this issue will give much needed certainty to taxpayers.
Pieter Faber, Technical Executive: Tax Law at SAIT
The South African Revenue Service (“SARS”) have developed over the last two decades from just another government department to a more professional and goal driven organisation. This has been achieved by good structural planning and the professionalism of staff.
However, like any system based mechanism it has one serious flaw, it has no soft skills and cannot exercise judgment, discretion, or the human touch. This is especially the case when things do not go as planned or there is no box in the system to tick for your problem.
The benefit of my job is that in assisting taxpayers and tax practitioners in resolving matters, I get to speak in person to the human SARS faces behind the system who, unlike the system itself, are mostly more understanding, sympathetic and willing to provide for practical solutions to specific circumstances (provided the system allows them to). I have found this interaction mostly a lot more satisfying than “working” the faceless SARS system for a result.
So if I was the Commissioner of SARS for only one day, I would bring back more of the human face of SARS, which though less efficient and consistent than a system, is mostly more fair and equitable and invariable a more satisfying “customer relationship” experience, especially when there is no box to tick or option to select.
It seems that this might be a common focus for our a number of SAIT members who work with SARS on a daily basis.
Erich Bell, Acting Head of Technical at SAIT
With SARS’ modernisation, a lot of actions are performed with little or no human intervention. This has, to a certain effect, led to insufficient reasons being provided and administrative actions that are procedurally unfair, especially when one considers the dispute resolution process. In past we have encountered denial of objections which states one sentence as to why the whole objection was disallowed. Although it is conceded that this is a seldom occurrence and that SARS is an absolute world-class revenue authority, system generated feedback opens the door for administrative actions that may be unfair.
I would therefore make use of more human intervention when it comes to disputes surrounding assessments to ensure that sufficient reasons are provided upon request and to ensure that the system does not lead to objections being incorrectly disallowed.