Taxpayer’s information remains confidential

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The South African Revenue Services (SARS) Commissioner Edward Kieswetter says taxpayer information is confidential and that the revenue service cannot be compelled to divulge such information.

The revenue service is legally compelled to uphold the confidentiality of taxpayer’s information, except under specific legal circumstances.

Kieswetter said this as he addressed a media briefing in Pretoria on Tuesday.

SARS, he said, would only release taxpayer’s information at the consent of the taxpayer(s) or when ordered by the court.

“If a court orders that SARS is required to release taxpayer information then I shall comply promptly with the order,” he said.

Kieswetter’s comments come as reports emerged that the High Court has held off the issuing of a Public Protector subpoena forcing SARS to release tax information related to a certain individual.

At the briefing, Kieswetter said he is aware that a SARS application to court concerning a subpoena issued by the Public Protector compelling him to divulge taxpayer information has created speculation in the media and social media.

Kieswetter said as SARS, they respect taxpayer’s information and the Office of the Public Protector.

“Earlier this year, I unequivocally expressed my support for the Office of the Public Protector. In many instances, I and my staff have worked diligently to extract information at the request of her office, and I shall continue to do so.

“I also expressed my wish that we would keep a line of communication open, where we could discuss issues of potential disagreement openly, honestly and frankly,” he said.

“The subpoena issued upon me has taken me by surprise, as I believe that the goodwill expressed would be reciprocated in the interest of good governance and the constitutional duty between organs of state to cooperate with each other, to support each other and to respect each other’s functions and legal duties,” said the Commissioner.

Kieswetter said as an institution, they have a duty to protect taxpayer’s information as it is confidential.

“Taxpayers should have their expectations confirmed that the tax authority administering the tax laws does so consistently and fairly so that similarly situated taxpayers are treated equally and consistently under the law.”

He said as an institution, they would opt to sit down and have a discussion with whoever is interested in getting taxpayer’s information.

“It would have been preferable to SARS and the Public Protector to have resolved this issue without resorting to a court. There is a fundamental issue of confidentiality of tax information at stake which I am compelled to uphold for the benefit of all taxpayers and principles are not limited to the taxpayers cited in the court documents.”

The SARS Commissioner said the willingness of taxpayers to comply with the law depends greatly on the trust invested by citizens and businesses.

“The willingness of tax payers to comply with the law depends greatly on the trust invested by citizens and businesses in the tax administration in question and in their confidence that their personal information will not be generally disclosed.”

The disclosure of tax information he said, has consequences for the core business of any tax administration, the implementation and enforcement of tax legislation and regulation. –