Kieswetter wants to steer SARS out of 'tragic' four years

Newly appointed SARS Commissioner Edward Kieswetter plans to help the tax service recover from the "unfortunate tragedy of the last four years".

The new tax boss was announced on Wednesday. He has been tasked with heading up the troubled tax service, which was plagued with allegations of poor governance under the leadership of Tom Moyane, who was fired by President Cyril Ramaphosa in November.

Kieswetter, a former group chief executive of Alexander Forbes, says rebuilding a culture of good governance, integrity and confidence in SARS will be an immediate area of focus when he takes over the reins on May 1.

'Unfortunate tragedy'

"The focus in the next 12 months would be on creating a stable SARS that has substantially arrested and recovered from the unfortunate tragedy of the last four years," he told Fin24.

No stranger to the revenue service, Kieswetter lamented the decline of the institution, as revealed in the final report of the Nugent Commission of Inquiry.

"I have taken the decision to step up to the plate and serve in this position....this is quite a big honour," he said.

He said his plan of action would include being honest about what has gone wrong at SARS, and keeping the public informed regarding how the organisation is addressing challenges.

The tax agency faced, among other issues, a R50bn revenue shortfall in its 2017 budget.

Pay up or face the law

"We want to send a clear message that if you are delinquent tax payer, you will see the full might of the law," he said, urging the public to become tax compliant citizens.

He said there was no doubt that the challenges highlighted in the Nugent report had severely impacted staff morale and compromised public perceptions of SARS.

"I am no saviour; that is why I believe my previous experience in the organisation will help me."

He added: "The next 3-5 years would be to ensure that we have a SARS with unquestionable integrity, that can be trusted and admired by the government and the public."

Times have changed

As a SARS deputy commissioner from 2004 to 2009, Kieswetter said he was mindful of the fact that "times have changed" and therefore he would need to adapt to the current challenges facing the organisation.

During his previous term at SARS, Kieswetter was responsible for the establishment of the Large Business Centre, which was collapsed under Moyane’s tenure.

He said reconstituting the unit had already been set in motion by acting SARS boss, Mark Kingon. Kieswetter said the centre was a key component of revenue collection and required highly skilled employees to handle the complex tax matters of corporates, including auditing and risk profiling capabilities.

Law enforcement

A key challenge that came up during the Nugent commission was the lack of action against prominent tax dodgers and the purging of skilled employees.

Kieswetter said he would be working to revive "solid relations with law enforcement agencies" to try to lure back some of the people who left the organisation.

"Fortunately, I know many people who have left SARS. Getting them back on [board] would be one of the areas that would be considered, but that part would be done on a case-by-case basis," he said.

In February this year, Mboweni appointed a panel – led by former finance minister Trevor Manuel – to interview and recommend to Ramaphosa a shortlist of candidates for the position of SARS commissioner.

Kieswetter's appointment followed a lengthy selection process, which attracted 82 applications, with a panel led by former finance minister Trevor Manuel making a recommendation to Ramaphosa.

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