SARS Should Be Commended for 2019 Collections in View of Historical Handicaps

SARS collected R1.28 trillion for the tax year ending 2019, falling R14.6 billion short of its target of R1.3 trillion. However, Ettiene Retief, Chairman of the National Tax and SARS Committee at the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA), believes the tax authority should be commended.

“SARS’ operations have been hampered by significant handicaps due to past mismanagement, including a massive VAT refund obligation, deep systemic breakdown and flagging employee morale,” says Retief. “Add to that weak economy growth and the steps implemented to rebuild SARS, it is commendable to have fared so well.”

Well done, Mark Kingon
According to Retief, that SARS was able to come so close to its expected revenue target can largely be attributed to the excellent work of Mark Kingon, the organisation’s outgoing interim commissioner, and his team. “Mark definitely deserves recognition for his leadership in keeping SARS from operational failure, and staring to rebuild trust in the organisation,” he says.

Revenue realised under Kingon has grown by 5.8% compared to the previous financial year. Also, much of the work done in the background will continue to bear fruit long after this year’s final audits are completed. Retief points to initiatives like relaunching the Large Business Centre (LBC) which, even though it delivered notable value, was terminated under disgraced former SARS commissioner, Tom Moyane. Kingon has also implemented processes for combating illicit tax activities and correcting internal issues. “These progressive steps may result in windfalls that have yet to be realised,” Retief observes. “Overall, we can expect that Kingon’s efforts will provide a strong platform for the incoming commissioner to work from.”

Good job, President Ramaphosa
Retief also applauds the transparent selection process used to vet potential candidates and nominate the new SARS commissioner. Unlike previous president, who at times appointed a commissioner based on personal or political preference, President Ramaphosa opted for an approach that was both open and objective, effectively placing himself at arm’s length from the proceedings, as was recommended by the Commission of Inquiry.

A high-level panel, led by Trevor Manuel, was appointed by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, to identify capable applicants and make their selection from a list of candidates that included Mark Kingon himself. Their final choice was Edward Kieswetter, who will take up the role of Commissioner of SARS from 1st May.

Welcome, Edward Kieswetter
“There’s no doubt Kieswetter is up to the task,” says Retief. “Apart from having been part of SARS’ history, he has a strong pedigree when it comes to running organisations, including heading up Alexander Forbes.”

No doubt, the new commissioner will have his hands full as he builds on the good work started by Kingon. However, Kieswetter’s first and foremost task will be to re-engage SARS staff, whose attitude and competence plays a pivotal role in winning back public trust and rebuilding tax morality. He’ll need to provide strong leadership, assure them of their value and motivate them to value service excellence. Secondly, he’ll have to focus on rebuilding SARS systems and capacity. “He has a long road ahead of him but he’s the right man for the job,” says Retief.