South African Revenue Service Commissioner Edward Kieswetter told Fin24 on Tuesday morning that the tax authority was introducing measures to protect customs personnel reporting for duty, as well as limiting contact between taxpayers and tax administration staff to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Kieswetter said these measures meant that SARS would like to see as few people as possible visiting their offices and that measures would be put in place for those conducting tax returns to do so safely and hygienically.
On Sunday President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a series of measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and advised South Africans to avoid gatherings of over 100 people and unnecessary travel, advising those who can to work from home.
South Africa has 62 confirmed cases of coronavirus, according to the latest updates from government by Tuesday morning. On the sidelines of a Parliamentary committee meeting, Kieswetter told Fin24 that the new coronavirus has taken various institutions by surprise, but that health and that the responsibility of individual’s safety could not be taken lightly.
"The impact of the coronavirus is developing even as we speak. This is unprecedented. We have never had to react to it [before]. But what we are doing at the moment is we are approaching it from the perspective of protecting our employees," said Kieswetter.
Kieswetter told Fin24 that SARS had many employees at frontline centres of service, including tax branches, customs offices and South Africans various ports of entry.
"In addition to stepping up vigilance in terms of self-care, we have put sanitisers in place. Staff at ports of entry will follow a low touch policy. We will use scanners. Where a more inclusive inspection of goods is needed, staff must wear gloves and masks," Kieswetter said.
He said staff in the audit and debt collection units would be asked to work from home and make use of a virtual private network.
"We will look at areas where we have to improve social distancing. In our call centres we are getting to work a distance from each other," Kieswetter.
Kieswetter told Fin24 that SARS would encourage traders and individual taxpayers to avoid coming to a SARS centre in person. He said SARS would accept scanned documents and would have drop-off facilities for those submitting physical tax documentation.
"This is a critical time because we are also in the final two weeks of our revenue collection. There are people who submit returns and must pay money. Fortunately, much of that money is paid online, but there are many small traders and taxpayers who come to our offices," he said.