Picture: TYRONE ARTHUR
Picture: TYRONE ARTHUR

It is not feasible to wait for the commission of inquiry into governance and administration to finish its work before restoring the credibility of the South African Revenue Service. It is clear from the submissions so far that the effect of the far-reaching restructuring that took place at SARS was to neuter its effectiveness.

That suspended commissioner Tom Moyane wanted the inquiry halted shows he does not have any interest in restoring the credibility of the tax agency and is motivated by the self-interest that led to the destruction of the institution in the first place.

Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene rightly describes SARS as the single most critical agency enabling the government to function. It is, after all, the agency responsible for collecting the money that is needed to fund everything from defence to education.

The country cannot afford to wait until the end of November, when a final report is scheduled to be handed to President Cyril Ramaphosa. It is critical that steps are taken now to restore the institution — once a symbol of efficiency and delivery — to its former glory.

THE COUNTRY CANNOT AFFORD TO WAIT UNTIL NOVEMBER, WHEN A FINAL REPORT IS SCHEDULED.

On Monday, SARS and the Treasury opened the tax season, announcing a R1.345-trillion revenue collection target for 2018, which is 10.5% higher than the revised target of R1.217-trillion set in 2017, an ambitious target for an institution that has already reported a revenue shortfall of R48.2bn for 2017.

Evidence at the inquiry signalled that the shortfall could be much larger.

It makes little sense then for SARS to continue to function as it has over the past four years and expect to collect more revenue — even though there is a new captain at the helm of the ship.

Clearly, the tax agency has to do things differently.

Nene urged SARS to follow its mandate, which is pretty straightforward.

This means putting aside the political battles that engulfed the revenue service during Moyane’s tenure and addressing the "disconcerting things" that the inquiry uncovered while conducting its preliminary investigation.

Nene said the Treasury would continue to support the senior management team in order for it to accomplish this.

But more is needed.

Some quick wins were highlighted in the inquiry last week. These include restoring the large business centre, addressing the issue of refunds and ensuring that the senior management in place are the best people for the job and are driven by the institution’s mandate.

Another quick win is to ensure that the disciplinary process against Moyane is wrapped up without delay.

At the moment, he remains the commissioner of SARS, despite being suspended. Mark Kingon is acting in the post, always a tenuous position, which does not allow for any real shake-up or major changes.

A permanent commissioner has to be appointed as soon as possible.

SARS is a complex institution and it is clear that fulfilling its mandate means chasing a constantly shifting target.

It is already on the back foot and cannot afford the indulgence of the kind of navel gazing a commission of inquiry allows.

Retired Judge Robert Nugent, heading the inquiry, says he may provide interim reports to Ramaphosa if there are urgent steps SARS could take to steer it back on to the right course.

This is welcome news and should be a priority for the commission as it continues its work.

Nugent’s no-nonsense approach was clear from the way he sidestepped Moyane’s attempt to bog down the commission in frivolous legalese, conspiracy theories and political battles.

He should take it a step further and ensure that he and his team speed up the pace and provide Ramaphosa with ways to start fixing SARS now.