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Sun Tzu's advice for tax practitioners

08 March 2013   (1 Comments)
Posted by: Stiaan Klue
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"The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting” - Sun Tzu 

Sun Tzu’s (496 BC to 544 BC) well-known publication The Art of War has received international acclaim for the insights it provides for the development of military and business strategies. In his acclaimed book The Last Afrikaner Leaders, Herman Gillomee suggests that the ANC’s negotiating team appointed to navigate the South African transition in the early ’90’s,  successfully applied many of the principles explained in The Art of War. 

The nature of a tax practice is one that requires a perfect balance between sound judgement and administrative efficiency. Tax practitioners are required to apply complex legislation in an environment driven by deadlines. In this highly charged environment it is easy to become abrasive and lose all forms of civility.  

As tax practitioners we should be mindful of the guidance provided by Sun Tzu. When facing the (sometimes) daunting task of visiting a SARS office, dealing with SARS officials, or filing a dispute,  we should remain focused on the big issue and not on our personal feelings. Acting in an  arrogant, rude or unprofessional manner is not the Sun Tzu way – we might gain a short term victory but risk losing the war. 

Perhaps the biggest lesson from Sun Tzu is: "No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no general should fight a battle simply out of pique.” In a similar vein Dale Carnegie also provides the following valuable advice in his famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People: "If you want to gather honey, don't kick over the beehive.” 

New draft rules on dispute resolution have just been issued for public comment. In his Budget speech the Minister of Finance commented that SARS will implement increased scrutiny of non-compliant taxpayers. The guidance provided by Tzu and Carnegie equally applies to SARS officials and tax practitioners.  

It is important that we learn and adopt the soft and personal angle in resolving disputes and conflict with each other. When dealing with disputes let us work within the general spirit of mutual respect and co-operation. Sun Tzu suggest we must siege [win] without destroying.  


Belinda O. Dua says...
Posted 11 March 2013
How true! Arrogance achieves very little. If we recognise that everyone is 'king of his castle' and work on that premise of mutual respect, not only will a lot more be achieved but a lot more can be mutually shared and learnt. Learning is after all a life long process.


Section 240A of the Tax Administration Act, 2011 (as amended) requires that all tax practitioners register with a recognized controlling body before 1 July 2013. It is a criminal offense to not register with both a recognized controlling body and SARS.


The Act requires that a minimum academic and practical requirments be set to register with a controlling body. Click here for the minimum requirements of SAIT.

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