Then finance minister Pravin Gordhan, left, and Judge Bernard Ngoepe at the official opening of the Office of the Tax Ombud in 2014. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Then finance minister Pravin Gordhan, left, and Judge Bernard Ngoepe at the official opening of the Office of the Tax Ombud in 2014. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

Tax ombud Judge Bernard Ngoepe has urged the government to introduce a taxpayers bill of rights to improve the level of accountability of Sars.

He has been advocating this for many years, but nothing has transpired as yet.

In the foreword to the tax ombud annual report for 2018/2019 tabled in parliament last week, Ngoepe said the Sars service charter, which outlines taxpayers’ rights and responsibilities as well as the service standards they can expect from Sars, is not enough.

“What we believe is needed is a comprehensive taxpayers’ bill of rights that we would  like to see being published as soon as possible,” Ngoepe said. “My office has already made valuable inputs towards the proposed bill of rights and now we urge Sars, the National Treasury, parliamentarians and other stakeholders to ensure that it becomes a reality.

“I am convinced it will contribute towards strengthening our constitutional democracy and, to a considerable extent, improve the level of accountability on the part of the revenue collector and support an improved tax administration system,” Ngoepe said, adding that this would improve public trust in Sars.

The other burning issue raised by Ngoepe was the need for full independence for the Tax Ombud from Sars. It has succeeded in having its budget approved by the finance minister rather than Sars and in getting the competence to make staff appointments on its own, but it also wants structural independence from the tax authority as it strongly believes it must be, and be seen to be, independent of it.

Currently, the tax ombud depends on Sars for supporting governance, fiduciary and administrative functions, which Ngoepe said hampers the work of the office and compromises its reputation. “It is because of this lack of structural independence that the International Ombudsman Association does not admit the office as a member.” 

The report of the tax ombud said that the top 10 tax refunds paid to taxpayers through the intervention of the office of the tax ombud exceeded R35m. The office received 4,822 complaints during the 2018/2019 financial year and 11,957 queries. It resolved 2,043 complaints; more than 99% of its recommendations were implemented by Sars.

Ngoepe said the office of the tax ombud has managed to help many taxpayers who would otherwise not have had access to a free and impartial resources to resolve their tax issues.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za