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New Tax Ombud Talks To The FM

Friday, 11 October 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Author: Andiswa Maqutu
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Author: Andiswa Maqutu (Financial mail)

Despite having served 18 years on the bench, retired Gauteng judge president Bernard Ngoepe is self-effacing about his appointment last week as SA's first tax ombudsman.

"There are many superbly qualified people for the job, some better than myself. I hope I will be of some use," he says.

Ngoepe formed part of the eight-person team that drafted SA's new constitution, served on the amnesty committee of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission and served a term as a constitutional court judge.

Last month, he was appointed vice-president of the African Union's African Court on Human & People's Rights, and he is also chancellor of the University of SA. Tax ombud is a new challenge, but he intends to bring the independence he developed and nurtured in his career to his new role."It will be different from what I have been doing in my 18 years as a judge but it is a welcomed new environment."

The Tax Administration Act, which came into effect last October, calls for a tax ombud, appointed by the finance minister, to ensure independence from the SA Revenue Service (Sars). The act grants Sars far-reaching powers and the ombud will balance these by giving taxpayers a cost-effective mechanism to address complaints.

A strained relationship between taxpayers and officials has been a feature of many countries ever since Julius Caesar first introduced taxes, says Ngoepe. "One doesn't hope to eliminate this; one hopes to facilitate access to tax services by taxpayers and ensure that they are dealt with fairly by Sars."The tax ombud is a last resort for aggrieved taxpayers before litigation, which can be expensive and prohibitive. They must exhaust all Sars' internal complaints resolution procedures before going to the ombud, unless compelling circumstances justify direct access.

"The ombud does not replace the income tax courts' role but ensures taxpayers are listened to and treated fairly and that taxation is [carried out] in a regular and fair manner by giving them a chance to make representations," Ngoepe adds.

While the tax ombud reports to the minister, Sars officials will be seconded to the ombud's office. This has raised questions about independence. SA Institute of Tax Practitioners CEO Stiaan Klue says, however: "For phase one, it's definitely a good offer. Let's review it a year from now, as ultimately the public will be the judge."

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