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SARS claims ‘complex’ nature in Adobe Flash switch-up

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The South African Revenue Service (SARS) says it is “certainly committed” to migrating the remainder of the eFiling forms from Adobe’s Flash Player to its chosen HTML5 technology in 2021.

This comes as frustrated taxpayers have taken to social media to air their eFiling grievances, as the revenue service failed to completely migrate all forms from the now defunct Flash Player.

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”.

In a statement this week, Adobe indicated it has blocked Flash content from running in Flash Player beginning 12 January 2021, after discontinuing support of Flash Player beyond 31 December 2020.

Despite this, SARS says there are some eFiling forms that remain on Adobe Flash post December 2020.

Complex migration

Explaining the cause of delay for the migration, SARS states part of its mandate is to administer many tax and compliance mechanisms, which spawn many submission requirements and interactions that necessitate the capturing and submitting of data through many different forms.

According to the revenue service, in addition to the high number of forms that required to be migrated from Adobe Flash to the chosen HTML5 platform, the migration itself is very complex and requires the development, testing and deployment of new forms, which contain many data fields underpinned by thousands of technical, administrative and complex business rules that ensure integrity of data, efficient processing and accurate assessment results.

“It is due to this complexity and the need to deliver properly tested and working forms that SARS prioritised the major tax types with the highest volumes, with the rest planned for 2021.”

As to when the migration began, SARS is unclear, only stating it anticipated “this scenario”, and communicated this to various stakeholders, including practitioners, at the end of last year.

“We are in a process of mitigating the risks and ensuring an easy and seamless service for taxpayers to interact with SARS, ie, SARS is busy replacing forms using Adobe Flash with the latest HTML5 technology and SARS has made significant strides.

“For example, in this replacement project, SARS has given priority to all major taxes with income tax for individuals, companies, trusts, PAYE and VAT already using forms built on HTML5.”

Tech capacity

The issue with the migration from Adobe’s Flash to HTML5 is not the first time that taxpayers have grown frustrated with the tax collector’s technology capacity.

SARS, however, says for more than two decades now, it has been strategically adopting advances in IT for the benefit of taxpayers and traders, to make it easier for them to comply with their tax and customs obligations and to improve its service levels to them.

“Over the years, these advances that SARS adopted have resulted in the successful rolling out of eFiling (recently to customs as well), e@syFile for employers and the SARS MobiApp for cellphones. All of this resulted in a massive reduction in paper usage, a key concern for the environment, as well as a massive saving in time and costs for the taxpayer and trader.

“Of course, some of the technology we use is gradually being replaced as part of this ongoing effort to modernise our systems. This is the case with Adobe.”

It adds: “SARS is aware of the ongoing issues experienced due to the discontinuation of the Flash Player component by Adobe, as well as some recent Internet browser updates. These have negatively affected a limited set of Adobe forms that are currently available on eFiling, although it should be noted that the forms required for the filing of income tax, VAT and PAYE are fully available on eFiling.

“It is worth noting that from an individual income tax point of view, more than 2.5 million returns have been filed online using the HTML5 form during the online filing season, which ended on 16 November 2020 for non-provisional taxpayers.”

With regards to its letters, assessment notices and objection processing forms, SARS says these do not use Adobe Flash for rendering to the taxpayer, but Adobe PDF files.

“It is SARS’ firm understanding that Adobe will continue to support PDF and so will all browsers.

“Provisional taxpayers, who are required to file returns, are assured that they can certainly use eFiling and the SARS MobiApp, which uses HTML5, on or before the deadline – 29 January 2021.”

Phased-approach

SARS points out that phasing in of HTML5 forms has focused on the major tax types with high-volume online submissions.

It reveals the forms which remain on Flash include the following: registration (excluding registration for individuals, which uses HTML), transfer duty, dividends tax and submission of financial third-party data.

The excise duties and levies forms are also on Flash, but are scheduled for migration on 29 January, it says.

When asked about the risk factors of remaining on a software technology that’s reached its demise, SARS says “all technology solutions pose cyber security risks and Adobe Flash is no exception”.

What is key, says the taxman, is that all users of technology ensure they subscribe to and implement the latest security measures contained in the latest security patches dependent on the software and hardware being used.

“From a SARS system perspective, every endeavour is made to ensure the highest levels of security which mitigate known risks. All users of technology, which includes taxpayers and traders, are urged to ensure that their devices have security software and that these are at the latest levels with or without Adobe Flash.”

In the interim, SARS urges taxpayers to follow the guidelines as provided and use the Microsoft Edge browser to complete and submit these forms online.

“While our technical teams attend to these issues, users need to follow the browser compatibility guidelines provided here.”


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