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Sars’ recruitment strategy raises serious questions

Numbers paint an unsettling picture.
Image: Moneyweb

The South African Revenue Service’s (Sars’s) recruitment drive has provided some insight into the state of affairs at the organisation. With applications now closed, Sars released the details around the roughly 88 000 applications it received, and the numbers paint an unsettling picture.

Surge of internal applications

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The recruitment campaign invited more than 15 000 applications from individuals already employed by Sars. This is an item for concern considering that Sars’ reported number of employees for 2019/20 was 12 146. Even if we accept that this number has grown to 14 000, the number of internal applications is not healthy. Although there may have been multiple applications from the same candidates, it still means the number of internal applications exceed Sars’ entire staff compliment.

With seemingly every Sars official vying for a new position, it raises some questions on Sars’ HR practices and its structural efficiencies – are the applicants putting their hands up as proud Sars officials, or are there skilled officials underutilised or being overlooked for promotions? Are the current Sars officials suited to their positions? Ultimately, it must be asked what is the current status within Sars?

Sars’ current talent pool

Ordinarily, organisations would seek to fill its vacancies from its existing resources, before opening applications to the public. There may be other reasons why Sars adopted a different approach, but a good guess would be that these resources do not currently exist within the organisation.

It must be stressed that there are exceptional officials within Sars, as anyone who has been through a proper tax audit will attest, but their numbers have dwindled. Reportedly, since 2014, more than 2 200 Sars officials resigned, 550 retired and over 300 were suspended or dismissed. The vacuum created by this exodus means that thousands of key officials had never transferred their skills to the
next layer, leaving Sars with no alternative but to fill the void from the outside.

But what will this do to morale at Sars? Will unsuccessful candidates be good with an outsider getting the job they applied for and can new leaders count on their support? The deficit of experienced Sars officials raises the next question – who will train the new recruits?

Skills transfer

The application pool boasts roughly 8 000 graduates; 755 of which are chartered accountants, and a considerable number of candidates hold master’s degrees and PhDs. Impressive qualifications, but how many of these candidates have actual working tax experience? It is not entirely clear what practical skill set Sars is looking for in delivering on a short to medium term basis in fostering practical tax proficiency.

A more important question is perhaps not how many professionals applied, but how many years have these professionals worked in tax, forensic audit or in detecting tax dodgers? The pool of experienced tax professionals in South Africa is comparatively limited, so it would be interesting to know how many members of the tax fraternity applied. The success of the recruitment drive may very well depend on
Sars’ ability to draw from this group of individuals.

Foreign talent

For various reasons, Sars seemingly did not cast its recruitment net beyond our shores. But with an additional budget of R3 billion, perhaps Sars should have used the opportunity to bring in a different breed of tax expert from abroad. Even if it is a handful of auditors from the feared United States IRS or Germany’s Bundeszentralamt für Steuern, it could have gone a long way in the transfer of skills and
enriching Sars’ gene pool in the long run.

Public private partnership

A concern often raised by top notch professionals joining Sars is how the organisational structure makes it difficult for them to add their value. Contracting in specialists consultants, data experts, audit strategy expertise and litigation experts etc. may greatly assist in filing a temporary need; but this will require a significant mind shift.

The good news

One cannot fault Sars for open and honest reporting. It is commendable that fault lines in Sars are no longer smeared over under the new leadership. While the figures may be reflective of a concerning status quo internally, Sars has come a long way in clawing back the public’s trust. We hope the positive changes, of which there are many, may have persuaded experienced tax professionals and
those who left Sars previously to apply.

Jean du Toit, Head of Tax Technical at Tax Consulting SA

COMMENTS   22

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Who in their right mind would want to work for this dysfunctional organisation??? unless its just after money….

Zuma and the Gupta’s can rest assured they not going to get caught for tax evasion anytime soon…

we gonna have to address the skills shortage….train Phds to handle tax matters….

Kieswetter to upgrade the donkey IT systems…

long long way to go

I am a tax professional with many years experience and I would like to work at SARS in their VIP section. Early in my career I worked for them doing lifestyle audits so perfectly suited to tracing the millions or is it billions of state resources repurposed for personal ANC MP’s and their families and to fund the ANC. There should be millions / billions to collect from all the ANC ministers and their families, who, based on the testimony at the Zondo commission, have received bribes and kickbacks. Problem is, given the mafia state we live in, I would need 24 hour armed protection and a bullet proof vest and would probably have to drive around in an armoured car. Then of course there is the millions in fringe benefits tax owed by Zuma for all the upgrades to his house and the fire pool, cattle kraal, etc. Would be interesting.

If only the state was as prudent in spending the money as it was in sourcing it.

What is the use of having a first world tax collection system when the cadres steal it dll?

It is never going to be first world where there is fairness as well as checks and balances. It is an extortion scheme to overlook ANC fatcats and squeeze the private sector, right or wrong.

12 000 individuals applying for 15 000 vacancies.

That is the beauty of cadre deployment

David – there are only 570 vacancies (article should have given that context)

Read the article again. 12000 employees yet 15 000 applications. For 570 positions not sure whats so bad

A tale of woe repeated in every Government department and BEE requisite companies is that a larger number of experienced white personnel were retrenched for nefarious reasons leaving a gigantic void in skills.

Those that remained perilously clung to their knowledge and skills – not transferring them to the next generation for fear of losing their jobs.

BEE has cost this country an amazing amount in monetary terms and ensured that there is a lost generation – trying to do the job without the skills.

When SARS is broken, the country is broken. Thanks to the ANC.

Why don’t they get some Cubans in to run SARS?

Tom and some Cubans. R200 million later, brilliant SA solution.

Make sure they speak NO english that way we can fill in BS on our returns and they will be none the wiser.

24 engineers… Cubans… arrived today to solve water problems in ZAR!! there’s your IRP5 going for payments!!!

For the same reason they won’t have Cubans run the ANC: Greed.

Looking for 3000 ghost employees?

The article leaves out a very key number for context on the other numbers – they are only looking to fill 570 positions!

but 570 is still a lot in context of their headcount!

Does SARS still have a reward scheme for tip-offs? I suspect they can save a lot of money on investigating if they:
– advertise that widely among ex-wives, divorce attorneys, Lamborghini salesmen and former business partners.
– increase the reward

IRS auditors are feared not because they catch tax dodgers, but because it’s nigh impossible to get fair treatment from the IRS. Similar to how SARS will charge you interest on disputed taxes “Settle now, we’ll pay you back if we’re wrong”

And getting money back from SARS is like having your wisdom teeth extracted. They find all kind of devious ways not to repay the money.

Yo SARS! Hit me up

feeling sorry for the staff there…. they need to create a new position… they UK companies advised me… “Peoples Officer” is the name of the game… to care for the unhappy staff in your organisation!!!

I would advice people to stay away from the Investigative Audit division. That division is where careers go to die. Young educated professionals being made stagnant, overworked, overlooked for promotions and generally not valued at all. You will remain on the same pay grade until you die or retire 36 years later especially if you started on their entry level position (5A). You will work crazy hours, unpaid to make the target of high number of cases to avoid being placed in incapacity. The incapacity has nothing to do with your technical skills but that you did not make the crazy number of cases. No promotion nor career progression policy. No performance increases. Worst of all, the internal staff is treated as stupid and the additional qualifications obtained mean nothing. This could be the worst career move ever especially if you are starting out.

There you go. Country duty done. You are warned. Stay away from Investigative Audit.

The paler variety inside SARS still has zero chance of getting any of these positions.

End of comments.

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