SARS bolsters exec team to harness tech innovation

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 05 Jun 2023
SARS commissioner Edward Kieswetter.
SARS commissioner Edward Kieswetter.

With modernisation high on the agenda for the South African Revenue Service (SARS), the taxman has appointed Carl Scholtz as deputy commissioner in charge of advancing its technological capacity.

Scholtz’s appointment is one of three announced by commissioner Edward Kieswetter on Friday.

Kieswetter says the move aims strengthen the executive team within SARS.

Scholtz has been named deputy commissioner for enterprise strategy, enablement and modernisation, while Johnstone Makhubu and Bridgitte Backman are deputy commissioners for taxpayer engagement and operations, and corporate and enterprise services, respectively.

Their appointments fall within the ambit of the recommendationsmade by the Nugent Commission of Inquiry into tax administration and governance at SARS, according to Kieswetter.

“I am delighted with these appointments. The deputy commissioners will provide valuable support to build on the work we commenced four years ago in the rebuilding programme.

“[They will] enhance institutional integrity and governance, accelerate our modernisation journey, and build our capacity and capability to execute our legal mandate.

“As the second line of command to the commissioner, the deputy commissioners will complement our leadership bench and ensure there is greater focus in the distinct areas assigned to them and step up our bias for action.”

Return to former glory

The revenue service’s technological prowess was the subject of much debate in the past.

In its final report in 2018, the Nugent Commission of Inquiry said SARS’s difficulties were not insurmountable, and recommended the recruitment of suitably qualified people to take charge of the organisation's IT development and implementation strategy.

Since taking office in May 2019, Kieswetter has been candid about some of the organisation’s limitations, previously saying SARS had been “dumbed-down” to the point of tears.

Under its current leadership, SARS has set itself a new vision, aiming to become a smart, modern revenue service, where its work will increasingly be informed by data-driven insights, self-learning computers, artificial intelligence (AI) and interconnectivity of people and devices, it previously said.

SARS has also noted the role of data science and technology in helping to achieve higher revenue estimates, as set out by the finance minister.

In addition, the taxman has committed to attracting highly-skilled and experienced individuals in areas such as IT, data management, legal specialist services, and audit and risk.

Kieswetter earlier this year noted SARS’s progress in this regard, saying it is slowly reclaiming its position as an employer of choice and attracting top skills.

In his new role, SARS says Scholtz will oversee and ensure the development and dissemination of modernisation techniques in an environment of advanced data science, AI and technology innovation.

He will also oversee the effective and efficient provision of IT systems required to support SARS’s unique objectives and goals, as well as the management, flow and strategy of data throughout its lifecycle to meet SARS’s business and financial objectives, it notes.

Carl Scholtz joins SARS as deputy commissioner for enterprise strategy, enablement and modernisation.
Carl Scholtz joins SARS as deputy commissioner for enterprise strategy, enablement and modernisation.

“Mr Scholtz’s significant operational and commercial experience makes him the ideal candidate to head up SARS’s enterprise strategy, enabling and modernisation portfolio in an environment where the organisation is striving toward building its advanced data science and AI capability, and striving to harness technological innovations to advance the strategic objectives of SARS and gain transformational efficiency and effectiveness towards building a smart, modern SARS.”

SARS says Scholtz brings to the role extensive experience in leading systems development and integration, architecture design, as well as business process re-engineering initiatives.

The former CIO of Comair, Scholtz has held various positions at SA Breweries, Pick n Pay Retailers and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), with his recent role being director at Extraordinary Minds Consulting.

Scholtz also spearheaded mega-projects in the financial services industry and was programme director at the JSE, where he was responsible for the delivery of its integrated trading and clearing solution − a R500 million core system replacement programme involving 18 different systems over a period of three years.

He holds a Bachelor and Honours Degree in Electronic Engineering from the University of Pretoria, as well as a Master’s degree in Business Leadership from UNISA Business School.

‘Higher purpose’

Upon taking the helm as SARS commissioner, Kieswetter listed five “must wins” for SARS. These were: broadening the tax base, improving voluntary compliance and fiscal citizenship, leveraging resources and efforts intelligently to achieve more with less, maintaining crucial partnerships within government and stakeholders locally and internationally, and building an organisation with integrity that can be trusted and admired.

The commissioner says he looks forward to taking the next steps forward with the contribution of the three deputy commissioners, to consolidate wins and strengthen the resilience of the institution, to sustain continuous progress and innovation in the years ahead.

“There is no higher purpose for a leader than to serve. In doing so, the only people to whom a leader is accountable are the people he or she purports to serve.

“We want leaders who bring balance to the respective roles, leaders who live the higher purpose of building our country, and leaders who are passionate about tax and customs. Leaders who will value and nurture those whom they lead. But most importantly − leaders who have the best outcomes for our taxpayers at heart,” comments Kieswetter.

“Appointment is only half the job of succession. Succession includes activities that occur after the appointment of the deputy commissioners – activities designed to maximise their chances of success. I look forward to championing those activities.”