Sars commissioner Edward Kieswetter. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL/FREDDY MAVUNDA
Sars commissioner Edward Kieswetter. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL/FREDDY MAVUNDA

Sars is reviewing all disciplinary cases since 2014, says  the revenue service's commissioner, Edward Kieswetter. 

“We are reviewing all disciplinary cases … and where we believe that these cases were created or manufactured to support the corrupt intent we obviously have to address that,” he said.

The review is in line with recommendations by judge Robert Nugent, who headed a commission of inquiry into governance failures at the institution.

The review is also expected to deal with disciplinary action taken against former senior officials accused of being part of the Sars “rogue unit”.

The high-risk unit was dismantled under former commissioner Tom Moyane, who used a 2014 report by advocate Muzi Sikhakhane on the alleged rogue unit to purge key officials at the revenue service. It implicated senior officials such as then acting commissioner Ivan Pillay, head of strategic planning Peter Richer and group executive Johann van Loggerenberg.

An advisory committee, headed by retired judge Frank Kroon, was appointed to review the unit. The committee also found that the unit was established illegally. However, at the time it emerged that the advisory panel had simply rubber-stamped the findings of the Sikhakhane panel, despite the findings being contested by those implicated.

‘Intensive work’

Nugent found in 2018 that the unit was not established unlawfully.

Kieswetter said he could not say how many disciplinary cases there have been in the past five years, but that it is an “intensive piece of work”.

“Obviously we can’t assume that all the disciplinary cases were not necessary or they were mismanaged ... Trying to reconstruct intent and reconstruct events is always hard work. The work we need to do is [to] apply our mind, [and] take our time, because there is no upside to getting it wrong,” he said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced Kieswetter’s appointment earlier in 2019. On May 1, he took over from Mark Kingon, a Sars veteran who served in an acting capacity after Ramaphosa suspended Moyane in 2018.

Moyane was fired in November, in line with recommendations from Nugent.

Kieswetter announced on Tuesday that the 2019/2020 tax season will officially open on August 1, while taxpayers who are registered for e-filing or have access to Sars’s mobile app can file their tax returns from July 1. He said voluntary compliance is the highest leverage to reduce the tax burden on everyone.

Sars has raised the tax threshold for returns to R500,000, he said. The previous threshold covered those earning less than R350,000 a year, meaning they did not have to file returns.

Before Kieswetter was appointed commissioner, an illicit-economy unit was launched in August 2018. It focused on the fight against the trade in illicit cigarettes, as well as textile dumping and illicit fuel. However, Kieswetter said plans for the unit will not be resurrected, and it had not been set up.

Commissions of inquiry

“We will establish … dedicated capacity, but that is a strategic piece of work that will take another month or two, but in the meantime we have deployed people who have the requisite skills to do the work that is required.”

Kieswetter also announced that he has set up separate capacity in Sars, to be headed by Kingon, to deal with information from  various commissions of inquiry, such as the one into state capture.

The commissioner has spent his first month in office meeting staff, without his executive, to allow people to talk to him honestly about the problems at the tax agency.

People’s spirits are clearly broken, he said. “We have unfortunately created a culture of fear and intimidation, and racial tension is sadly high in the organisation.

“And so the first step to changing something is to not be in denial about it, and speak about it openly, and that is what we have done and what we need to address. And people will hold us accountable to that as they should,” he said.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za