Natasha Marrian Political editor: Business Day
Taxpayers queue to file their income tax returns at the SARS office in Polokwane, in Limpopo. Picture: SOWETAN
Taxpayers queue to file their income tax returns at the SARS office in Polokwane, in Limpopo. Picture: SOWETAN

The need to re-establish the critical large-business centre at the SA Revenue Service was “urgent” and it could not afford delay, it was said on Thursday at the commission of inquiry into governance and administration at Sars.

Testimony at the inquiry, chaired by retired judge Robert Nugent, was that the unit’s revival was under way under acting commissioner Mark Kingon. But Business Day understands from Sars insiders the work is slow and, other than discussions, no real action has yet been taken.

The large-business centre, which provided all-in-one tax services for big corporate clients, contributed about 30% of total Sars revenue collection.

But under the restructuring led by now suspended commissioner Tom Moyane, and conducted by consultants Bain & Co, the unit was disbanded. Its highly skilled staffers were scattered across the organisation, and many have since resigned.

Nishana Gosai, former head of the transfer-pricing unit in the large-business centre, gave emotional testimony on the consequences of the restructuring on individual Sars employees. Her highly skilled, specialised unit was dissolved.

Business Day understands that the majority of its staff — deemed largely irreplaceable — had resigned. She said the process had “broken” many people and the organisation itself.

“I had been put through a very vexatious process which Sars spent R400,000 on. I was bullied and intimidated to a point where a police complaint was lodged.” But she would not elaborate when Nugent prompted her to do so.

Gosai urged the commission to ensure an “apolitical commissioner” was put in place, saying the tax agency had been caught up in political battles that led to its destruction.

Evidence on Thursday once again pointed to lack of consultation by the senior management at Sars as well as by Bain & Co when the business centre was being remodelled.

Sars executive in charge of compliance Fareed Khan said Bain & Co did not create an operating model, but rather a “structure with reporting lines”.

In the past, Sars had a “strategic vision which influenced its structure. What they simply did was reshuffle chairs. There was no vision we were made aware of,” said Khan.

Bain, in response to evidence against it at the inquiry, said in a statement it took “seriously any questionable assertions” about its reputation” and looked forward to presenting facts and evidence to support its work.

The company will be making a submission to the commission next week.

Sars business centre’s head Sunita Manik was removed and replaced by a former official in the unit, Vincent Sibande, who was meant to “liaise” with Bain & Co in the restructuring process. But Sibande said at the inquiry that even the consultations with him appeared to be a mere “formality”.

Evidence leader advocate Carol Steinberg read evidence indicating that other officials also felt Bain was not listening.

“The process was being driven in a certain direction and we could not stop it,” she said, reading out the evidence.