Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The suggestion by Rob Rose that the SA Revenue Service (Sars) is racked by fear and loathing is unwarranted. The implication that there is widespread paranoia running rife throughout the organisation is not accurate.

For a start, it is a misrepresentation to argue that Sars has become a so-called “big brother” organisation that unnecessarily monitors employees.

It’s no secret that Sars places tremendous attention on the security of information. The legislation, and our policies, mandate us to ensure that the information we get is always protected and secure.

This is necessary, considering that a large part of our mandate involves dealing with sensitive taxpayer and trader information.

It is a responsibility we treat with great care and the highest degree of caution.

This is manifested in strict security controls and protocols, which includes restricted remote access to e-mail. This is not a new development, but has actually been in place for years to deal with the rise in cyber security threats.

Obviously e-mail is a powerful tool used by Sars, but it also
provides the opportunity for information to be shared with unauthorised recipients — whether intentionally or unintentionally. Any unauthorised dissemination of taxpayer information compromises our organisation and could lead to it being held legally liable.

Personal income tax, for long the anchor of revenue collections, underperformed by R15.2bn

Furthermore, we believe there is an apparent bias in certain elements of the media, and this causes us at Sars to be deeply concerned.

It seems there is a mischievous attempt to cast aspersions on the character of the organisation, to perpetuate a narrative of an organisation that is falling apart. This isn’t accurate and, needless to say, Sars is entirely within its rights as an employer to protect its information and reputation.

Last week, the Financial Mail claimed that Sars commissioner Tom Moyane was suffering from paranoia for having bodyguards.

However, it is vital that the commissioner and Sars employees who are threatened or deemed to have been threatened (by individuals or syndicates they are investigating) are then provided with personal protectors.

This isn’t a new practice. All previous commissioners (and relevant staff) have been allocated protective services for this reason.

Perhaps most crucially, Sars takes exception to the perception that the revenue gap of R30bn is due to the performance of Sars’s administration itself.

The facts are that the significant downward revision from the estimate of R1.17 trillion by R30bn for the 2016/2017 financial year according to the 2017 budget is attributable to a number of factors.

These include:

  • Customs duties were lower by R6.5bn, as a result of contraction in real terms in imports;
  • Vat was similarly dragged down by Vat on import collections by R11.3bn;
  • Personal income tax, for long the anchor of revenue collections, underperformed by R15.2bn. The growth of this tax has declined from levels exceeding 12% to about 9% in recent years. But this is a result of lower wage settlements, containment of bonus payments as well as retrenchments.

All of these factors were taken into account when formulating the budget proposals.

Importantly, this process is not decided upon by Sars alone: in fact, the revenue analysis working group includes officials from national treasury and the Reserve Bank.

This working group recommends a revenue estimate to finance minister Pravin Gordhan. It is a process that has been in place for years, and it has ensured integrity and transparency when it comes to the determination of revenue estimates.

Sars is single-minded about meeting our revenue collection target for SA. We fully appreciate the responsibility entrusted to us by the constitution, and we are aware of the implications when we don’t meet this target. Any suggestion to the contrary is misplaced.

* Memela is Sars’s executive for media and public relations.

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