Tax ombud slates SARS, says it must drop 'skop and donner' attitude

Pretoria – Although the South African Revenue Service (SARS) has an important role to play, it must do so within the confines of the law, the Tax Ombud said.

Speaking at the launch of the Tax Ombud Office’s annual report for 2016/17 on Tuesday, Judge Bernard Ngoepe stressed the importance of his office as a watchdog.

“We don’t like SARS to adopt a ‘skop and donner’ attitude, we want them to treat people fairly,” he said. Treating people fairly will inculcate in them a sense of responsibility and they will comply with their duties.

Given that South Africa is a constitutional democracy, every institution’s exercise of authority must be subject to some counterbalance, he said.

During his address Ngoepe lamented that his office had to approach the Finance Minister to get permission to conduct an investigation into SARS’ systems.

The office had received innumerable complaints related to a delay in refunds. In September, the ombud released a report that indicated that it was indeed systems in place at SARS that were inadequate in addressing issues raised. The ombud made several recommendations and highlighted that the delay in refunds had negatively impacted the financial position of taxpayers.

Speaking at the Tax Indaba last month, SARS commissioner Tom Moyane, noted the findings of the report and apologised for the “glitches” which have caused an inconvenience and said that SARS would continue to improve its systems.

On the relationship between the office of the Tax Ombud and SARS, Ngoepe said that while SARS has a right to collect tax, his office ensures that the tax authority does so in accordance to the law.

In turn the Tax Ombud does not enable taxpayers to evade their obligations. He urged SARS to follow recommendations, or at the very least give reasons why they will not implement the recommendations as a matter of good governance. “This impacts the morale and the confidence people have in the system.”

Ngoepe said there is also misunderstanding between SARS and taxpayers which leads to “hitches”. He made an example of when SARS issues a final letter of demand. SARS should also inform taxpayers of the options they have available to them, which they have not done in the past.

Ngoepe added that given the number of complaints received since its establishment in 2013, he said there was a legitimate need for his office. “It was not a mistake to establish the office of the Tax Ombud, it was the right thing to do,” he said. “We are very lucky to have the office of a Tax Ombud. Not every country has this mechanism.”

Among the main findings of the report show that the complaints received grew 62%  from 2 133 in the previous year to 3 454 in 2016/17. Of these, 1 722 were rejected as they did not fall within the mandate of the office, and 1 270 complaints were accepted. Only 462 complaints have not yet been validated.

Most of the complaints reviewed are related to dispute resolution (39.51%), followed by refunds (24.90%) and debt (8.32%).

During the period a total of 621 complaints were finalised, 86% of these were in favour of complainants. 

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