Recently appointed SARS Commissioner, Prof Edward Kieswetter, started the process of turning around service by having talks with its employees.
“I found that many of our staff have lost trust in the leadership, many of them have a broken spirit. We have unfortunately created a culture of fear and intimidation, and racial tension is sadly high in the organisation,” said Prof Kieswetter.
He went on further to state that SARS had lost valuable skills and a breakdown in public confidence.
The previous commissioner, Tom Moyane, has built a reputation for leaving institutions in a structural mess and encouraging racial division.
President Ramaphosa fired him after the Nugent Commission, led by Judge Robert Nugent, recommended his removal.
Similarly, in 2013, Moyane had been forced out of his position as correctional services commissioner by then Minister Sbu Ndebele.
His ‘forced retirement’ was initiated after several scandals were revealed, which include losing control of a prison to inmates, violent prisoner protests, hostage situations and the stabbing of prison staff members.
He also implemented policies that racially discriminated against Coloured employees, a matter which was taken to court.
In 2016, the Constitutional Court found in favour of the affected employees, confirming that Coloured employees had been discriminated against on the basis of race and ordering the department to take into consideration regional demographics.
More recently, former Bosasa boss Angelo Agrizzi, stated that Moyana had received hundreds of thousands in bribes on a monthly basis during his time at correctional services.
As SARS Commissioner, he blocked the Treasury from blacklisting Bosasa.
Given the deep structural problems created by Moyane, Prof Kieswettter made it clear that he would implement the recommendations of the Nugent Commission.
Having served as the previously as deputy commissioner between 2004 and 2009 he said that he is happy that there are staff who still remembers when SARS was functioning well.
The former Alexander Forbes CEO is known for his painstaking attention to detail and following the correct procedures.
He indicated that he won’t jump headfirst into rebuilding the capacity and units that was dismantled by Moyane.
“You don’t start with the unit, you start with the work,” he said. “When we have decided what our response ought to be, we will create capacity to deal with it, and that might give birth to what you call a unit.”
In addition to building staff morale, he is also paying attention to making sure that SARS hits its target of more than R1.4 trillion in tax collections and investigating the proceeds of corruption and other crimes.
As part of an ongoing process of streamlining the service, Prof Kieswetter also announced that the income threshold for the submission of tax returns has increased to R500 000 from R350 000.
A major operational challenge for SARS is the lines that form during the time leading up to the tax deadline.
Dan Zulu, acting head of business and individual taxpayers, said that the increased threshold will hopefully discourage people, who are not required to file returns, from visiting SARS branches.
Prof Kieswetter further stated they had a “sophisticated risk engine” that could detect any discrepancies in the information they had for persons earning R500 000 or less, hence these persons would not need to submit tax returns.
For those persons having to file, the tax season starts on August 1 and the deadline is October 31.