"If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything" - Malcolm X
Professional accounting and tax bodies play a unique role in any economy. High-quality performance by tax professionals benefits the economy and society by contributing to the efficient allocation and management of resources in both the private and public sectors and to the operation of financial and capital markets, and through both of these to the production of goods and services.
For this reason tax professionals in many countries are subject to state regulation. South Africa is no different and we are currently considering a co-regulatory regime for tax professionals. This is detailed in the draft Tax Administration Amendment Bill. Professionals will be required to register with a "controlling body" such as SAIT, as a prerequisite for practicing tax and completing tax forms.
Obtaining state sanction is something that most practitioners will support. In this way they will receive an elevated and privileged position in society. However with any duty comes responsibility. Tax practitioners will have to relook at compliance levels, professional standards and most importantly, achieve a balance between acting in the interest of clients and acting in the public's interest.
Professional bodies will also have to reconsider their position. Do they act for the benefit of members or for the public interest? Are these opposing objectives or they the same? Should we just accept laws, acts and regulations "as is" and ensure that our members comply or do we participate in the legislative debate? If we participate in the drafting process how vigorous should we support or object to proposed tax changes? Should our comment be limited to technical corrections to improve a tax provision or should we also dare to comment on tax policy?
I believe that we cannot keep quiet if we become aware of wasteful expenditure as reported by the Auditor-General or any other government authority. It is our professional and moral obligation to comment. Our members and their clients expect this of us. Internationally professional bodies are participating in social debates - see here, here and here.
The new dispensation proposed by the amendment bill will affect members and the Institute. We should recognise these challenges and design appropriate strategies and responses. Personally I hope that our new statutory recognition will not hamper our ability to critically debate and constructively contribute to improving South Africa's social and economic climate.
I would like to see the situation where practitioners -- whether accounting or tax professionals -- are forced to report tax irregularities or schemes aimed at doing the fiscus out of their rightful share. Doing that right now may find you in conflict with your professional body for breaching client confidentiality.
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.