14 October 2022 – Today, SARS is hosting its 25th anniversary celebration, following its formal establishment on 1 October 1997. The auspicious event will be addressed by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
SARS was formed out of the amalgamation of the segregated revenue services of the apartheid-based Bantustans, as well as the Departments of Inland Revenue and Customs respectively. By law, SARS is an administratively autonomous organ of state within the public administration, and an institution outside the public service. The SARS Act mandates the organisation to:
- Collect all revenue due.
- Ensure optimal compliance with tax, Customs and excise legislation.
- Provide a customs and excise service that will facilitate legitimate trade, as well as protect our economy and society.
SARS would also have to provide advice to the Ministers of Finance and Trade and Industry on Tax and Customs matters.
From its inception, SARS has been guided by a fundamental principle called the Higher Purpose, closely linked to its mandate. The principle simply means that SARS and all who work there collect revenue to help government build a capable state to foster sustainable economic development that improves the well-being of South Africans.
Since its inception in 1997, SARS has over the years collected circa R18 trillion, to put the SARS Higher Purpose in action. Government has been able to pay old age, foster care, disability, and various grants, as well as provide basic public goods and services.
It is through the collection of these revenues that millions of school children attend schools, hospitals function, and medication is procured. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) ensures that academically deserving matriculants from poor households manage to attend tertiary institutions.
The Covid-19 pandemic had a devastating impact on lives and livelihoods. Over R70-billion in tax relief was granted to employers and employees to prevent job losses. The monthly R350 social relief of distress grant has literally saved millions from destitution.
An amount of R1.6 trillion, collected by the end of March 2022, represents more than 9.9% compounded annual growth rate, against the amount that SARS collected in 1996/1997 – R147-billion.
The achievement of the above result is due to no small measure to the passion, commitment and focus by the SARS staff to bring to life the Higher Purpose so that we can build our nation. This also proves that SARS is a vital institution of the country’s democracy, and living testimony that a government entity can become a world-class organisation that delivers on its mandate in a seamless, efficient and effective manner.
SARS continues to transform itself from an organisation that printed millions of tax returns, of at least 12 pages, which were mailed to taxpayers. These returns, along with millions of pieces of supporting documents, were returned and stored on entire floors of many buildings across the country. Today, it is a largely paperless, data driven, and mostly digitalised and sophisticated organisation.
A ground-breaking modernisation journey saw the organisation move from these manual and paper-based processes, to being an electronic and digitised institution that uses technology to interface with taxpayers and traders, aiming to reach the state where the best service is no service.
SARS continues its aspiration to be a smart, modern institution with unquestionable integrity, trusted and admired, that delivers its service without fear, favour or prejudice.
SARS, like other state institutions, witnessed efforts to repurpose it for corrupt means by politically connected individuals. It saw a significant loss of talent, marginalisation of staff, complete collapse of governance, as well as a lack of trust by citizens. The Commission of Inquiry headed by Judge Nugent has helped SARS to arrest further deterioration.
SARS is working hard to provide clarity and certainty to taxpayers and traders to meet their legal obligations. Its strategic intent is to foster a culture of voluntary compliance that requires that taxpayers and traders to register for tax or Customs purposes, file returns truthfully and on time, and pay the tax that is payable in full by the due date. Further assistance is provided through extensive taxpayer education programmes to guide taxpayers and traders.
SARS uses data science, artificial intelligence and technology enablement to make it simple and easy for all taxpayers and traders to comply with their legal obligations. The institution is continuing to hone its capabilities to detect and respond to instances of non-compliance. We are making it hard and costly for those taxpayers and traders who willfully and intentionally choose to remain non-compliant and engage in criminal activities. In line with world trends, SARS has access to data locally and across the world to help the organisation’s efforts to detect and act against non-compliant taxpayers and criminal syndicates to combat non-compliance.
On its 25-year journey, SARS is thankful for the generous assistance it received from the Swedish tax and customs authority, the Australian and Canadian revenue authorities, the Department for International Development, and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.
Commissioner Kieswetter says: “In the next 25 years, we envisage a situation where “tax just happens”. This would imply that SARS will see an exponential increase in using structured data from third party sources domestically and internationally, as well harvesting data and insights from unstructured sources. Drawing on data science, machine learning algorithms, and artificial intelligence, it will see taxpayers be assessed in real-time. Our Vision 2024 of a “smart modern SARS”, strives to set the foundation for the next generation of tax administration, in a world where business models become increasingly digital, value chains are virtualized, and physical presence as the primary nexus to establishing taxing rights are replaced by economic presence.”
On the occasion of the silver jubilee, it is proper to celebrate the success of this important institution that strives to better the lives of South Africans by expressing our gratitude to millions of compliant taxpayers and traders who make it possible to realise the Higher Purpose.
Happy 25th anniversary to the South African Revenue Service.
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