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R3bn earmarked for SARS modernisation

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Finance minister Tito Mboweni delivered the 2021 budget in Parliament.
Finance minister Tito Mboweni delivered the 2021 budget in Parliament.

Budget 2021: Even though it’s faced a tough time with its Adobe Flash Player switch-off, the South African Revenue Service (SARS) has started to deepen its technology, data and machine learning capability.

So says finance minister Tito Mboweni, delivering the 2021 annual budget speech in Parliament this afternoon.

Mboweni added the taxman is expanding specialised audit and investigative skills in the tax and customs areas to renew its focus on the abuse of transfer pricing, tax base erosion and tax crime.

“In this coming fiscal year, SARS will establish a dedicated unit to improve compliance of individuals with wealth and complex financial arrangements.

“This first group of taxpayers have been identified and will receive communication during April 2021. In support of these efforts, we request that this house approve an additional spending allocation to SARS of R3 billion over the medium-term.”

The revenue service’s technology prowess has come under the spotlight in recent weeks, as it has failed to completely migrate all its forms from Adobe’s Flash Player to its chosen HTML5 technology in 2021.

Computer software company Adobe announced in July 2017 it will stop supporting Flash Player after 31 December 2020, recommending that “all users immediately uninstall Flash Player to help protect their systems”.

Instead of completing its migration, SARS decided to introduce a Web browser that supports defunct Flash Player.

At the end of January, SARS announced the release of an alternate SARS browser solution, saying taxpayers will be able to complete and submit the Flash-based forms not migrated to HTML5, in the interim, while it completes the migration.

The National Treasury’s review document also notes that an additional spending allocation of R3 billion will be provided to SARS to modernise its technology infrastructure and systems, expand and improve the use of data analytics and artificial intelligence capabilities, and participate meaningfully in global tax compliance initiatives.

“A digitalised SARS is intended to lower costs of compliance, simplify tax administration and improve collections,” says the report.

On corruption, Mboweni said the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development is allocated R1.8 billion to improve business processes.

This allocation, he stated, will support law enforcement agents in the fight against crime and corruption.

“We are bringing the long arm of the law into the digital age through the Justice Modernisation Programme.”


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