SARS e-filing goes live

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The SA Revenue Service's new R140 million e-filing facility went "live" this morning, giving South Africans the option to file their annual income tax returns online.

Taxpayers have until October to file their returns for the tax year that ended in February.

SARS communications GM Logan Wort says the system is an incremental development of its existing technology, rather than a completely new system, as was the case with the Department of Transport's electronic National Traffic Information System.

SARS commissioner Pravin Gordhan says the upgrade was the result of a collaboration of "both in-house and outhouse" talent. He declined to identify SARS' outsourcing partners, saying "it's not our practice to act as advertisers for those vendors". He added there were several partners involved at various stages of the upgrade.

Big budget

Gordhan says the new e-filing system is part of a modernisation drive at the tax collector. "Part of that modernisation is to understand the different sectors of South African society," says Gordhan. "Part of understanding those sectors better is developing new service propositions and new interfacing propositions.

"Our plan is to decrease the number of people at the back-end of our operations and increase the number of people either providing service and education outreach or on the enforcement side. Over the next five years or so, as this back-office machinery becomes leaner, as we automate our processes internally, you are going to get this repositioning in the system," adds Gordhan.

"There will be no job losses and we've told staff that. We went through a similar process between 2001 and 2004 when we went through a non-technology process improvement process that created the assessment centres, the enforcement centres, the front offices and so on. Not a single job was lost in that process."

Gordhan says the R140 million budgeted for the upgrade is paying for the use of Adobe 8.1, which allows taxpayers to complete and submit their income tax forms online. It is also paying for the redrafting of the pro forma, printing, setting up new scanning machinery, "reorganising our pipelines around the country, training staff, reorienting staff, etc," says Gordhan.

SARS COO Edward Kieswetter adds the tax service employs about 2 000 people on income tax assessments. He expects the new e-filing system and related process improvements will free about 20% of this group for other tasks, mostly education or enforcement. "And that is only in this first phase of the current process."

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