SARS at the centre of government efforts to improve lives

Friday, October 14, 2022

With R18 trillion collected over the past 25 years, the South African Revenue Service (SARS) has been lauded for being at the centre of government’s efforts to improve the lives of society’s most vulnerable.

The salute on Friday came from President Cyril Ramaphosa who delivered the keynote address at the revenue collector’s 25th anniversary celebration. SARS first opened its doors in October 1997.

SARS, said the President, had since its inception provided the democratic government with the financial resources to fulfil the promise of freedom, and to create a better life for all.  

“We were fortunate at the time to have had visionary and astute leadership that brought together different capabilities, bureaucratic structures and policies to create this most potent symbol of hope.”

In attendance were Deputy Finance Minister David Masondo, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, Commissioner of SARS, Edward Kieswetter, Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke,
and Deputy Governor of the South African Reserve Bank Kuben Naidoo.

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, Joe Maswanganyi, Presidency Director-Genral Phindile Baleni, and Judge Dennis Davis, also graced the event. Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana virtually addressed the event. 

“The institution has always understood that it is at the centre of our efforts to improve the lives of society’s most vulnerable,” said President Ramaphosa. “Beyond its revenue and compliance mandate, SARS was created to have a transformative impact. This is thanks to the revenue collected by SARS.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic government supported businesses in distress with tax relief measures that were well administered by SARS.

He said these measures were intended to prevent factory closures, job losses and ensure that the livelihoods of workers could be safeguarded, none of these financial interventions would have been possible were it not for the excellent work of the committed employees at SARS.

Since its formation in 1997, SARS had collected over R18 trillion for government.

The President these trillions were to fund various programs that have supported the lives of South Africans.

“When one compares the amount of R1.6 trillion collected by end of March 2022 to the R147 billion SARS collected in 1996/1997, one becomes aware of the enormously impressive work that is done by SARS.

“This accomplishment is due to the passion, commitment and focus by the staff of SARS to bring to life the higher purpose I referred to earlier,” he said.

The President said it was critical that more be done to improve service delivery, to root out corruption and ensure that the country’s economy recovers.

He saluted the SARS staff, saying they were “our unsung heroes who have continued to carry out your patriotic tasks during the most difficult of times”. These included the global financial crisis of 2007/2008, the country’s economic difficulties, the State Capture period, and the COVID-19 pandemic, among others.

Unfortunately, he said, none of those lessons could not have prepared SARS to protect itself against well-orchestrated capture by “self-serving individuals who were not only unbothered by the higher purpose I spoke about but were in fact hostile to it”.

In 2018, President Ramaphosa instituted the Commission of Inquiry to investigate the state of the revenue collector, which had deteriorated in standards between 2014 and 2018.

“The most damning finding of the Commission was that there was a massive failure of governance and integrity at SARS, facilitated by the deliberate dismantling of tried and tested organisational arrangements.

“I undertook to implement all the recommendations that were made by the Nugent Commission of Inquiry. I know that the Ministry of Finance, the National Treasury and SARS have implemented many of the Commission’s recommendations,” he said.

“The few that are outstanding will continue to receive the attention of my administration and the relevant institutions.”

The President emphasised that it was critical for taxpayers and traders comply with their legal obligations for SARS to deliver optimally on its work.

“To those compliant taxpayers who meet their legal obligations, I salute you. It is your compliance that enables SARS to fulfil its mandate of collecting all the revenue that is due,” he said.

President Ramaphosa said SARS was an excellent example of a government entity that is efficient and effective.

“The encouraging progress of rebuilding SARS is evidence that it is possible to arrest and rebuild ourselves from the deep damage we suffered during state capture. I would like to encourage SARS to continue in this vein, and to inspire other government departments and entities to follow suit.

“It is crucial that SARS continues to pursue its mandate without fear, favour or prejudice,” he said.

Kieswetter said the over the next 25 years and beyond, the country had a huge responsibility “to resist any effort from any quarter [and] to defend this crown jewel of our democracy”.

He said: “We have the inordinate privilege, but also the sacrosanct accountability to advance the independence, the integrity and the institutional capability of SARS. The Revenue Authority must be allowed to act and fulfil its mandate and to do so, beyond any reproach with questionable integrity.”

Godongwana said SARS plays a key role in protecting the integrity of the domestic economy.

“Year after year the revenue agency has, more often than not, defied the odds of an underperforming economy and a shrinking tax base and delivered more revenue than expected. In the last financial year alone, SARS was able to collect close to R17 billion more than what we had estimated. As a Finance Minister, this is music to my ears,” he said.

The Minister said the agency had managed to achieve this through the hard work and dedication of its staff and through the outstanding effort of its leadership team.

“Strong institutions built on the rule of law, integrity, and excellence, underpin the collective ideals enshrined in our Constitution. It is these institutions that will outlive us and guarantee the prosperity of future generations. Our institutions should be built to weather the inevitable winds and trials of a young and growing democracy.

“It is natural that these institutions be tested. There is proof that our institutions are more than capable of overcoming these tests. SARS is a living example of this resilience. Long may it continue,” he said. –