7 April 2014
The ombud’s office is an additional and free avenue to deal with complaints by taxpayers that cannot be resolved through the South African Revenue Service’s (Sars) internal mechanism, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said on Monday.
Speaking at the launch in Pretoria, Gordhan said the ombud’s office “added to the sound institutional framework” that has sustained South Africa’s social and economic progress during the past 20 years.
Gordhan said the government owed a debt of gratitude to the millions of taxpayers who provided the state with the means to fund its programmes, which in a “virtuous cycle” would stimulate growth, job creation and generate higher future revenue.
“We owe them our deep gratitude and a commitment to spend this money wisely, honestly and efficiently, but also we owe to these taxpayers a tax system that treats them fairly.”
He said the ombud’s office was intended to be a simple remedy for taxpayers who have legitimate complaints that relate to administrative matters, poor service or the failure by Sars to observe taxpayers’ rights.
As announced in October last year, retired Judge Bernard Ngoepe will head up the new office, which will review a complaint, and if required, resolve it through mediation or conciliation with Sars officials specifically appointed to deal with the ombud.
Ngoepe may only review a complaint after a taxpayer has exhausted Sars’ internal complaints resolution mechanisms. Direct access to the ombud will only be allowed if there are compelling circumstances for doing so.
His office may not review legislation or tax policy. It will also not review Sars policy or practice generally prevailing, other than to the extent that it relates to a service matter or a procedural or administrative matter arising from the application of the provisions of a tax Act by Sars.
The office will also not review a matter subject to objection and appeal under a tax act, except for an administrative matter relating to such objection and appeal or a decision of, proceeding in, or matter before the tax court.
“Our challenge is not just about affording the taxpayer a fair hearing or the provision of service,” Ngoepe said. “It is more about providing information that is easily accessible and understandable.
“The office will treat the taxpayer public with utmost dignity and respect, provide an open, accountable and timely service and it will also render well-reasoned decisions in respect of actions taken by it.”
According to Ngoepe, the office will be operating independently of Sars and will also treat with strict confidence the communication between it and the taxpayer.
“Given all these as well as other considerations, the office of the tax ombud expects to contribute towards boosting the taxpayers’ confidence in tax administration, resulting, hopefully in even better tax compliance,” he said.
Acting Sars Commissioner Iva Pillay said: “The ombud will keep us on our toes. That’s good for tax compliance and that’s good for Sars and South Africa.
“The credibility of Sars and the success of the ombud’s office will depend on how Sars handles complaints. This is not only a matter of how we handle an individual complaint.”
The tax ombud reports directly to the Minister of Finance and its annual report must be tabled in Parliament by the minister.