South African Revenue Service (Sars) commissioner Edward Kieswetter on Thursday said that if Sars fails our democracy fails.
He was addressing delegates at the eleventh Premier Corporate Governance conference in Montecasino organized by Chartered Secretaries Southern Africa.
Kieswetter said it was important to fix things at Sars as its sole mandate was to enable government to function well.
He said the damage inflicted as a result of the looting of the State was without a doubt “massive” and it was unfortunate that it was affecting poor people.
“Between 2014 and 2018 Sars has been the target of deliberate capture for narrow self-serving individuals which has led to a breakdown in governance, integrity and even draining of skills, as well as a decline in the international standards as a regulatory authority, a significant decline in the tax compliance and an understandable loss in public trust and confidence and a consequent decline in revenue collection. I can confirm that the situation is indeed even worse than what I am describing here today,” said Kieswetter.
He shared that recently he had spent time visiting Sars offices and engaging Sars employees and he had seen that there had been a significant breakdown of trust in the leadership of the organization.
He went on to salute those he said continue to serve and go the extra mile in serving at Sars under the circumstances.
“We have also experienced the loss of skills in many areas of leadership: around 2 200 resignations and 550 retirements since 2014, which included much needed skills such as 130 employees with specialized skills in technical analysis and specialized auditing.”
Kieswetter went on to explain that during the State looting about 60 senior executives had been moved to meaningless roles at Sars but that they had been reassigned to do meaningful work.
“We are currently reviewing several hundred cases where employees were placed on suspension and discipline to simply sideline them because they were considered to be in the way of the projects. All this has resulted in frustrating our tax payers in terms of service delivery. I have seen their frustrations from our customers. There has also been a bullying approach by some of our auditors. There is no excuse for such behavior by any of our employees,” he emphasised.
CHANGE AT SARS
He assured delegates that the rebuilding of Sars had begun.
“We have opened a large business centre and established units like the integrity unit and there are still many areas in which we would like to build capacity and capability which is efficient [and this] will be addressed over the years. I am currently in the process of reviewing the performance of senior executives as recommended by the Nugent Report,” Kieswetter added.
Furthermore, he explained that disciplinary processes for employees placed on suspension and disciplinary actions were also underway.
“If the organization is to heal, then leadership must heal first. Leadership is accountable in providing direction and driving operations and providing services. It also exemplifies desired values. Leadership renewal is key in the work of rebuilding good governance."
He said it was pleasing to see a recent survey which indicated that there was a slight increase in public confidence.
“We will continue to work on that.”