SARS looks to tech as taxman eyes more revenue

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 27 Oct 2022
SARS commissioner Edward Kieswetter. (Image source: GCIS)
SARS commissioner Edward Kieswetter. (Image source: GCIS)

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) has committed to achieving higher revenue estimates, underpinned by data science and technology.

So says SARS commissioner Edward Kieswetter, accepting finance minister Enoch Godongwana’s challenge to up the revenue service’s tax collection.

Delivering the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) yesterday, Godongwana increased the revenue collection estimate that SARS must collect to R1.682 trillion from R1.598 trillion.

“As SARS, we accept the challenge of the revised higher revenue estimate. While the revised revenue estimate is steep, we are committed to act according to what is permissible in law to meet this challenge,” says Kieswetter.

The commissioner notes the rebuilding of SARS is evident in improved revenue collection.

After the organisation’s ICT infrastructure became the subject of much debate, SARS 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 and interconnectivity of people and devices.

National Treasury’s 2022 MTBPS also revealed yesterday that the taxman will receive “additional funds to improve ICT capacity and revenue collection capabilities”.

Kieswetter states: “We are laying a firm foundation for this new environment, which is the synthesis of data-driven insights, enabling information and technology infrastructure and employing skilled staff, which are all indispensable for the success of this modernisation journey.

“We are equally committed to counter criminal and illicit activity. SARS has largely implemented the Nugent Commission recommendations, while outstanding recommendations are currently being aligned with those of the Zondo Commission on state capture.

“SARS will continue to improve its service to taxpayers and traders by providing clarity and certainty to enable them to meet their legal obligations, and by making it hard and costly for taxpayers and traders who willfully remain non-complaint. The drive to increase the use of technology, especially the use of big data, machine learning and algorithms and the use of third-party data will also continue to be expanded.”

Commenting on the tax authority’s rebuilding mission, the commissioner told Bruce Whitfield on 702’s The Money Show that “it’s a work in progress”, adding that it’ll take SARS many years to get where it needs to be.

“I think we have substantively begun to address a recommitment to the modernisation and by that I mean an investment in data science and technology, and we are making slow but steady progress in bringing back some of the technical competencies.

“The hardest work in any organisation is to root out any residual elements of corruption. I can tell you today that within SARS, within the NPA [National Prosecuting Authority] and the South African police force, you still have residual, lingering and stubborn elements that seek to undermine our efforts – that’s going to take a long time to weed out.

“However, we’re beginning to see more and more people have belief that we can turn around an institution like SARS, and that over time will have a compound effect, which we believe is sustainable.”