Edward Kieswetter. Picture: ROBBIE TSHABALALA
Edward Kieswetter. Picture: ROBBIE TSHABALALA

As Sars enters the last two weeks of its tax collection for 2019/2020, it is discouraging people from visiting its branches saying they should rather interact with the tax agency electronically.

Sars has given an alert to its 12,500 staff members to practise hygiene and to undertake social-distancing in a bid to limit the spread of the coronavirus, commissioner Edward Kieswetter said in an interview on Tuesday.

He said there were no confirmed cases of coronavirus among Sars staff yet, but a few have been told to self-quarantine after being in contact with suspected cases.

Sars is encouraging taxpayers who need to deal with the organisation to interact electronically or, when necessary, drop documents in drop boxes outside Sars branches rather than visiting them.

Kieswetter does not believe the pandemic will affect Sars’ tax collection efforts for this year as most of the major taxpayers engage with Sars and pay their taxes electronically. However, the pandemic would slow down the economy and so result in a slowdown in the growth of tax revenue.

The Treasury has estimated revenue for 2019/2020 at R1.5-trillion.

“Obviously, coronavirus is unprecedented. We are learning as we go and it is developing. What we have already done is increase the level of knowledge and education of our own staff. We have told them that self-care is important — that is, stepping up hygiene levels, and washing hands more regularly, and we have stepped up our efforts to make sanitising agents available,” he said.

“We have relaxed some of our procurement policies to allow for more rapid responses to allow local branch managers and port of entry managers to top up with petty cash where they need to. We are running out of provisions and we have to be as agile and flexible as we can. We have raised the level of petty cash so local managers can use it.

“In terms of our front line staff in branches, in addition to self-protection we are asking staff to observe no or minimal touching and to keep distances. When they have to engage with taxpayers they will wear gloves and masks and suits, as necessary.”

Kieswetter said Sars is limiting the number of members of the public with access to its offices to 100 at a time. “We are asking taxpayers to be more patient and exercise restraint because it will take longer to be served.”

Taxpayers will also be asked to maintain a 1m distance in the branch offices. Posters will be displayed outside branches giving further guidance.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za