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Tax evaders should face jail time to curb rising non-compliance – Judge Dennis Davis

Says Sars should hone in on taxpayers who can afford a Ferrari, but pay less tax than working class South Africans.
Image: Shutterstock

Retired Judge Dennis Davis wants tax evaders to end up behind bars. He believes it will be a real deterrent as the idea of going to jail certainly “concentrates the mind”.

Davis has been appointed as a consultant at the South African Revenue Service (Sars) for a year, with the option to renew, to assist the beleaguered tax authority. His mission is to increase its tax collection capabilities and expand the shrinking tax base.

Sars should be honing in on those recalcitrant taxpayers who are able to afford a Ferrari or two, but pay less tax than working class compliant taxpayers.

“This can’t possibly be justifiable on any basis. It irritates me and it should irritate all of us,” he said during a PSG webinar on the future of tax in SA.

“The more you have a corrupt state, the more you will have an incapable state and the more effectively you substitute efficiency for rent seeking (manipulating public policy to increase profits). We have incredibly good rent seekers and very few people who are building a society which should be in the image of the Constitution.”

During his time at Sars Davis intends to check the acquisition of luxury vehicles from suppliers over the last five years and correlate that to the tax returns of people.

He believes this will bring in a lot of previously undetected revenue. It will make people more eager to consider amnesty or a deal with Sars rather than ending up in criminal courts.

He says the fact that people own luxury cars and mansions, but pay very little tax is offensive, particularly in a society with unbelievable levels of inequality. “People are able to get away with this with impunity. I find it very difficult to deal with.”

Read: Sars is seeking to criminalise mistakes

Reskilling Sars

Davis says Sars has been focussing on the wrong issues because it has lost the capacity to do what it is supposed to. He believes it should forensically hone in on the culprits and leave the others alone.

People who claim a private dinner as an expense are not the problem.

He is more interested in those who are exploiting the system by evading customs duties, income tax, manipulating value-added tax and transfer pricing systems, or similar “shenanigans”.

This requires skilled people which Sars has lost during the years of state capture under the leadership of former commissioner Tom Moyane.

Read: Tax ombud releases report on systemic issues at Sars

Sars and the audit profession have actively been seeking out retired people or people who are about to retire with solid forensic, tax and finance experience to regain the agency’s former glory. The aim is to appoint between 200 and 300 experts as quickly as possible. Once that happens, things will change quickly, says Davis.

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni allocated R3 billion to Sars in the February budget, and part of that will be used to upskill the agency. The degradation of Sars has had a massive impact on tax collections and the state’s ability to deliver on its mandate.

“We do not have a failed state, but an incapable state, and to illustrate that we can only look at the (Covid-19) vaccine debacle.”

Davis says the problem with creating a competent Sars means that it will be operating in a sea of “mediocracy, incompetence and corruption”.

Sars abuses wide powers of debt recovery (May 2020)
Sars, have you taxed that Aston Martin? (September 2020)
Sars – can a leopard change its spots? (October 2020)
Sars puts through a sneaky change (February 2021)

Criminal prosecution

In what will probably be its last report, the Davis Tax Committee, appointed by former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, will look at ways to reconfigure the legislation to allow Sars to institute criminal prosecution against taxpayers who are ultimately recalcitrant.

“Quite frankly, we do not think that the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority) in its present situation is able to do that,” he said. There is a staggering amount of cases at the NPA at the moment – more than a thousand – which are collecting dust.

Davis also referred to the Sars debt book. The longer the debt remains outstanding, the less likely it is that it will be collected. “If we were able to collect the outstanding debt, we would have been able to pay for the vaccines three to four times over.”

Tax base

He says the country does not have “any wriggle room” to increase tax rates, so it is critical for to increase the current tax base.

It is impossible to only have 5 000 taxpayers who declare a taxable income of more than R5 million a year, compared with the number of mansions and luxury vehicles in suburbs such as Sandton, Bryanston, Camps Bay and Bishops Court – even if you take out the property owned by foreigners.

Mboweni knows there is no room for increased tax rates, even in this crisis. He has paved the way for a reduction in the corporate income tax rate to 27% from the current 28%. This will be done by eradicating several unnecessary tax incentives. Davis is even keen to see corporate income tax decline to 22% or 23% and a decrease in the personal income tax rates.

However, this is only possible if everyone contributes their fair share to the tax net.

“We need to increase the tax base. If we are not able to do it, we have failed in our job.”

Read: Sars to crack down on tax avoidance schemes


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I find it offensive that all those politicians that stole our tax money are not behind bars. Perhaps SARS should go after the tax dodging politicians that lives above their means first. But, SARS will go after the soft targets first, won’t they?


It “IRRETATES” me that the judge don’t even mention it. Maybe he is just a deployed cadre??

Of course he is. SARS in desperate to increase collections but they dare not look at the ANC elite or their ilk. Everyone myust pay their part… just not ANC cadres

Good, all tax evaders should be targeted, even the soft ones (whatever that means).

No mention of how he will tackle the mini taxi industry, illegal tobacco imports etc. Not enough jail space for mini taxi bosses.

@supersunbird: The ‘soft ones’ are those who will not be in a position to arrive at court with a mini-protest in tow who will sing, chant and possibly destroy and vandalise whatever is in their way. Well that’s the ones they (SARS & NPA) are quite comfortable going after as I perceive it.

Actually they cannot put any one in jail until they bring back the Tax money from Dubai and Pakistan.

What about the mansion in Dubai? are they blind?

Judge Dennis Davis does not have the judicial or moral fortitude to state this exact fact.

Let’s start with all those who have taken a parliamentary or political party pledge for a life-style audit. My only question then is going to be left to ru(i)n the country. Then come, on that list of priorities, with deployees, tenderpreneurs and their sons and daugthers. What about all those political party members who are coining it and even running the BEE schemes and construction schemes like ‘construction mafia’. And all those wonderful and plentiful Hamilton Ndlovu affiliates and disciples.

ANC looters should face jail time to curb rising corruption – boom gloom. That would concentrate their minds.

How do you ever challenge an entity when it has its own prosecutorial abilities.

It’s unconstitutional.

Agree, the judge has his knickers in a knot. Offensive that they don’t even stop for a moment’s introspection and ask why are people now trying not to pay. If the Titanic could be saved then SA can be saved, else get in line for a life boat.

But just as the case was with the Titanic all the elite are reserving the life boats for themselves while the ordinary Joe Shmoe will be left to go down with the ship. If you dare want to survive the sinking ship you cannot simply rely on the instructions of the authorities and the elite, they will simply to tell you to remain in your cabin and stay calm.

I have a better idea, what about jailing the ANC cadres who have stolen billions and destroyed our lives. What about holding Ramaphosa accountable for robing ordinary South Africans of electricity and basic freedom?

The cadres would not have paid tax on their stolen loon I’d think, so by default they would also be tax evaders and thus in the crosshairs.

How much unpaid taxes does former President JZ have from fringe benefits and donations? Tax evaders should go to jail!

Does this squeaking man realize that the tax system lacks legitimacy as money collected is stolen or squandered. Can he not see that expenditure not income is the problem? Look at SAA, Eskom, Denel, MPS with criminal records and a disgrace of a judiciary.

Stop squeaking Dennis and tell your ANC cares to stop stealing and do lock them up….just one would be a start…

That Ferrari really burnt his a$$$ ne.
Now dear Davey — please start with Zoompie !!!!

Agree pleasc start with Zumpie, but we all know who signs your monthly cheque.


He has to repay about R16 million for legal fees. That would be after tax money so it would represent about R30 million in pretax earnings. I think ha earned around R3mil per year. That means he needs more money to repay the legal costs than what he earned during the 9 years he was Pres.

Wonder if he even paid that tax. Then all his assets? He paid for those with after tax money as well. Supposedly.

So maybe they just need to quickly look at his account??

Sorrrieeee guys he got the wrong car. The cadres are not driving Ferrari’s that’s for the plebs, they all getting Lambo’s. They must have taken note of Frank Sinatra’s quote.

You buy a Ferrari when you want to be somebody. You buy a Lamborghini when you are somebody.

Sorry mrjones – I try not to offend anyone except the anc when I comment BUT Ferrari’s, Lambo’s and most other expensive wheels are trash when it comes to Cadre/ Comrade managed and maintained roads (they haven’t built any yet as far as I know but I may be wrong, or they may have fallen apart).
The knowledgeable use a Landcruiser – statistically, globally, with the exception of the USA and their anally retentive neighbors and Cele’s little mob (with due respect to the honest cops struggling to do their jobs with a once a month mobile vehicle), most UN WhatsitsOrgs, professional hunters, game rangers, private reserves, Namibian/Northern-Cape/Karoo/Free State farmers and every terrorist / freedom fighter org or drug dealer relies on a Lancruiser – with or without service plans.
Declaration: I have no interest in Toyota (in case those dodgewhits at SARS are reading this), I can’t afford one and would happily p*ss on anyone driving anything more elaborate. A decent clearnce for the traffic calming obstacles is enough.
My transport wake-up moment came after seeing the homeless people kipping on the pavement outside the Cape Town Porsche dealership. Not the dealership’s fault I know, but I would like our politicians to drive by the dealership every evening to see how kak their performance has been over the last two decades and that driving a fancy car means squat – its how they walk their talk – and they’re all crippled.
Their Astons, Lambo’s, Ferrari’s, Beemers, Mercs, Audis etc etc (and their blue light escorts and body gaurds) are pretenses of what they are really worth: SQUAT – when you see the homeless,
Just saying – no reflection on you mrjones.

The clever people say that when you have money problems, you can’t fix it with money, you need to change your behaviour.

That being the case, can we fix the problems at SARS without changing our politics ? Do we have a SARS problem, or do we actually have a political problem ?

But I agree with Davis, having only 5000 people with a declared taxable income of R5 million plus is an absolute joke. That doesn’t match the cars and houses we see around us on a daly basis, which just shows you how tax compliance and SARS’ abilities have deteriorated over the years.

Unfortunately the last President of the US set the barr for tax evasion. Until he is prosecuted as an example to the rest of the free world…nothing will change –
Zuma can ride off into the desert sunset in his gold plated 4×4, the Guptas can have lots more expensive weddings and the taxpayer in SA can nurse their sorrows over a cold beer – weather and Covid permitting!

You need to learn the difference between tax evasion & tax avoidance.

Trump is just like every other rich person; they avoid taxes, never evade them. Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, hell, even the Queen, do this. They would never risk being prosecuted & lose all their wealth due to tax evasion.

Of course, politicians like Zuma, Biden, Clinton et al, think they can get away with simply stealing taxpayer funds; I would say stupidly so but, thus far, they seem to have gotten away with it.

And we must never complain about the rich avoiding tax; the laws apply universally to everyone…just learn the law & do the same. It’s simpler than you think!

Are you really justifying looting, corruption and tax evasion here because of what you perceive has been done by President Trump in the US? Do you think anyone in SA gives a damn about what he does? Stop deflecting and obsessing about Trump, and focus on the issues here. You have the bigotry of low expectations if you think that Africans can’t/shouldn’t comply with tax laws

“Davis says Sars has been focussing on the wrong issues because it has lost the capacity to do what it is supposed to.” Can’t agree more. Instead of going after politicians and their family who have benefited from kickbacks and inflated contracts with the state they audit taxpayer’s who are trying to comply to death and then seek to criminalise innocent mistakes while SARS mistakes and delays in dealing with matters go unchecked. We have had a VAT vendor who has had every single VAT return reviewed since registration with no findings in any of them.

Something else that SARS needs to focus on is their administration. Many organisations have failed because of poor administration. It takes months, if not years to get something as simple as a public officer changed. Anything out of the norm also takes forever to resolve with contradictory, ever changing requirements from SARS.

Agreed TaxBusta. I get audited every year and have been asked the most inane questions by SARS staff or their contractors. I am a pensioner and have to jump through hoops for medical refunds despite submitting all the documents. But the gangsters running the drug trade and protection rackets in Cape Town and elsewhere, the cigarette companies who are all screwing SARS, the senior public servants with multiple contracts with government departments go free. The anc’s favourite businessmen and women in KZN pay less tax than I do but earn millions a month more.
Judge Davis, when will SARS publicize the cases they have won and name and shame the crooks getting away with murder. This legal secrecy your employer clings to is not only non-transparent, it shields the crooks. I am quite happy to have my audits displayed for the world to see, because I have nothing to hide. The rich gits paying a fraction of what they should be paying cower behind SARS’s protection. That’s why SARS has a trust problem and more and more people are avoiding or evading tax.

Spoken like a true communist. Always attack the rich capitalists.

I wonder how many of those with Ferraris and mansions are real “rich capitalists” though? Just asking.

Government deployment cadres that talk socialist but live capitalist. Cyril is a billionaire “socialist”. How can the two reconcile?

I realize that it is a crime. However I still think they should prosecute crimes against persons better. One of the MAIN functions of a government is keeping their people safe. WELL the government has failed!!So let’s put more people in prison?????

Ok guys, don’t buy a Ferrari and you will be fine

Judge Davis you have my support. I think Ms Batoyi needs some help as well.

Start with the biggest fish from public and private sectors.

Judge you have my support to go after tax dodgers. I fear though that you will find all these rich Ferrari and Mansion people to be politically connected. You will be quickly informed to know your place. If you want to start somewhere start in the SARS VIP section where all the politicians are being protected and hidden away.

Why is it that some e-mails in SARS is automatically being deleted if it contains certain tax numbers. Who is being protected? Unfortunately South Africa has degraded to the point where SARS is trusted as much as the ANC is trusted.

@SARS4U – please tell us more about ‘…some e-mails in SARS is automatically being deleted if it contains certain tax numbers.’

Retire Davies. You can’t win this. Even if you get it right you will only get more funds for the ANC. They are only using your reputation to legitimize a part of the theft. Not a legacy you deserve.

Just note how one can buy a pack of cigarettes for R12 at any shop/cafe/store throughout S.A., i.e. untaxed! It must be very straightforward to find the source of supply but SARS stay well away from this “business”, mainly because they are afraid of the cigarette mafia’s violence, as they are afraid of the taxi associations’ violence, as they are afraid of ……
Much easier and safer to harass the ordinary PAYE taxpayer for the last cent.
Tax laws only apply to the PAYE and VAT paying public: they do not apply to the various mafias operating with ANC “authorisations”. The latter are hidden behind so called “confidentiality regulations” within tax law.

It is now becoming a Moral Obligation to withhold tax from this corrupt government.

We are bombarded with daily information of governments mismanagement; misappropriation and other wasteful expenditure. Daily. On a scale that boggles the mind.

The more this “government” wastes – the more the Citizenry are reminded they owe – and should be paying to this corrupt “government”.

If a citizen buys suspected stolen goods – one becomes party to the crime.
But funding government corruption is ‘the morally right thing to do’?!?

To those Entrepreneurs who drive a Ferrari and declares a salary of R5Bar – I salute you. We are jealous of your intellec and success.

Dennis Davis is economical with the truth. Capital gains tax is a tax on wealth but DD does not have the fortitude to call it as such. He calls a capital gain “income”. The Rand is on a debasement trajectory to oblivion. Any asset thus measured in Rand terms will “appreciate”. It is not the asset that is growing but the yardstick that is shrinking. As an ANC tax extortion lackey, the man has less than zero credibility.

Ain’t it amazing, if not decidedly ironic, how legal theory and principles can be cherry-picked to support a particular political theory. Davis and Kieswetter claims that the obligation to pay taxes is the law, irrespective of whether or not, as is becoming increasingly apparent in the Zondo Commission, it is, and has always been overt or covert ANC policy to plunder the State coffers to fund its corrupt practices; irrespective of whether or not some or most of the taxes are stolen, “lost” or “misplaced” by its corrupt cadres; and irrespective of whether or not nothing or very little is actually done by the NPA to prosecute such lawlessness (because its ability and expertise was decimated by these same cadres). How about the ancient principle that, in order to meet the minimum standard for validity, the end objective of a law must be the common good; the legislator must not exceed its power in promulgating that law; and the burden of the law must be shared equitably and proportionately by all members of society. A failure to meet any one of these conditions renders the law unjust, and an unjust law is no law at all – it cannot be used by a political ruler to enforce his will even through statutory coercion. A failure to meet that standard avoids that right and a purported law in conflict with it is unjust and may be disobeyed. How is a law that coerces payment of taxes to enable, for example, a corrupt ruler to perpetuate its criminal conduct in the common good? And how is the tax burden shared equitably and proportionately by all when these cadres pay no, or very little income tax, property tax, etc.? And then we do not even get to the social contract theory under which the State has breached, and reneged on every conceivable tenet of that contract … And unless I misread the other laws, just the expression of this view may be argued to be the inciting of a tax revolt and statutory censure.

I suspect Judge Davis wants to nail the PPE tender fraudsters, they are his real target.

Weak, misguided and unproductive spending by government is a much bigger problem, than the production of taxes. Just look at the exorbitant costs of the Zondo Commission. The private sector would have run that Commission at a fraction of the cost.

”Every little helps; quoth the wren she pissed in the sea”
Anonymous (William Camden, Remains Concerning Britaine 1605)

This is what I would call – ”starving the beast in jail”. All of this is now coming at a time that our economy lost its strength and its resiliency. By locking up these tax evaders, the tax base will fall dramatically, with them out of circulation etc.

Our economy just cannot absorb these types of disruptions, and recover post-Govid 19 – economists can’t even predict at what pace our economy really needs to expand under these terrible circumstances with our unemployment numbers, increasing daily.

I thought the best strategy for SARS would be to recover the billions of Rands stolen with Covid relief money first?

The last time I checked , taxpayers are permitted to legally arrange their tax affairs to reduce their tax burden, so Judge Davis needs to be very clear as to what he means by the “moral ” aspect to paying less tax. If we are permitted to within the law arrange our affairs and in so doing pay less tax and oh! be able to buy a Porsche etc, then that is our right. Why does Judge Davis not direct his outrage and energy towards those who have stolen this country blind, and why do not enforce the collection of the taxes owed by Zuma, his tax bill must be over a R 100 million with interest clocking up daily, please do not tell me he has paid his tax bill, I doubt that the outstanding assessments have even been raised. Threatening the high income earners with a big stick is only going to drive them overseas.

I agree, as do many comments here. Davis is too terrified to name names and spread the net to those we pretty much know evade tax or benefit from tax evasion; Zuma with Nkandla, NDZ with illicit tobacco, Bosasa donation recipients (including his boss Cyril), all the beneficiaries of SAA and Eskom looting, all the PPE scam organisers exposed right now.

Instead he threatens and blusters; typical lawyer and communist, focusing on the target his ANC mafia boss has set him on with tunnel vision. The message to me is clear, SARS is hellbent on making the ordinary taxpayer a criminal, guilty until you prove yourself innocent. Act accordingly and get away, otherwise become a tax lawyer; things are going to get lucrative, as long as the law prevails, which, I think, people like Davis will soon want changed to say a tax tribunal, soviet style.

Judge Dennis, we have a corrupt and failed state. Wake up! The solution is not to go after the super rich, but to address the source of the problem, ie corrupt and incapable government. This is so ridiculous. I agree the super rich should pay, but why will they? Just more money to be stolen by a corrupt government. What will the ROI be for the additional R3 billion allocated to SARS. Just more money wasted away. How many jobs could have been created with this money? What does a business do when its expenses are higher than its income? You cut sir, you cut expenses!

On point, yet extremely biased.
Almost every single member of this government has been implicated in thievery and not a single one of them are behind bars.

My reading of this is that the Judge will target anyone whose conspicuous wealth/consumption exceeds that which is capable of being supported by or constructed using tax returns (which, depending on taxpayer’s activities, may usefully include a balance sheet). These tax returns may have been based on tax avoidance (constitutionally ok) or tax evasion (criminal). No distinction is to be made on whether taxpayer is classified as private sector, public sector or both.

In other words, it is targeting criminal underpayment of taxes. What is there to object to?

Suggest the Judge visit jewellery stores too and unpack sale of high value items, whether paid for in cash or otherwise, and take home some in-store CTV footage for home-viewing.

Someone else needs to be appointed to address the issue of taxes being mis-spent, and voters and NGOs can support this second initiative.

Yeah! Looks like an honest citizen will never win here.

Davies you have now shown your lack of moral fiber. You are nothing but another shyster.

I suspect the judge’s trail on luxury items will quickly run into companies and trusts with unidentifiable beneficiaries.

This is the same judge that chose, in one of his commissions, not to tax below market value use of assets as a taxable fringe benefit.

Easy money:
Investigate the intercompany expenses for IP, brands, etc in international groups.
Change the tax law that says a sale of a portion of for example Naspers stake in Tencent is not a CGT event but if I sell shares it is taxable CGT. I think last sale was about R250,000,000,000 proceeds against hardly anything in cost. Work out what the tax on that gain would be for mere mortals. Pays for a quarter of Eskom debt straight off – or 20,000 Ferraris…

Imagine what an ordinary citizen who is yet to hear about the arrest or conviction of a looter is feeling reading about this? How does he/she feel learning that SARS want more tax to cover for lotted funds that may never be returned?

Secondly, imagine a graduate who is getting his first job and told that you will earn R500 000 per year, but you must surrender just over 36% in taxes. It does not end there, he also found out he must pay 15% VAT, fuel levy and other taxes. His mother and siblings are also waiting for his support. Dear Judge Davis, please tell him how this tax regime is progressive!

Thirdly, I agree that the tax base must be expanded. But this “Big brother” forceful nature SARS is taking does not work. It will push people to hold their assets and money overseas and Defi may help them do just that.

lastly, instead of planting fear in people, how about you focus on:
1. Expanding the tax base
2. The fat cats in government that have lotted resources and money from the taxpayer
3. Find ways of rewarding and encouraging those that are compliant
4. Encourage a culture of saving and investing so that people are not worried that after years of saving and investing they are seen as “wealthy” and paying less tax.

I thank you

Excellent suggestions…..a little more carrot than stick would go a long way in encouraging the beleaguered minority who are paying the vast majority of personal income tax. Stop trying to squeeze more from those that are trying to maintain a balancing act of remaining in ( and financially supporting) this country, eventhough the looting by government continues…..

Yet again the ego-driven Davis proves his silliness.

SA simply cannot afford to house all the tax dodgers. Rather just go after his comrades who are robbing the country blind. Stem THAT flow and tax resistance will drop and there WILL be money to fix the country’s problems.

Honorable Judge Dennis Davis, really feel concerned for You having accepted this TERRIBLE JOB. It is remarkably interesting how the affirmative action can be so selective in application in dear SA. It will be interesting what You will be called once the first high profile black Ferrari owner get put in jail for not paying the tax due or is this exercise only for white capital? It will be interesting if for once ordinary SA citizen stand together in counter suing government for absolutely no convictions whatsoever once the Zondo commission work is done costing the taxpayer properly around R1.5Bn. Please understand Honorable Judge, that SA citizens get absolutely nothing for their taxes! Just in case this statement puzzle’s you, we must provide for our own medical, security, education, transport & housing. Nobody ever gave us a house for free or paid for my children’s education. EVERYTHING HAD TO BE PAID FROM OUR EARNINGS! AFTER TAX! Be strong & jail the real perpetrators that destroyed SA e.g., Gupta’s & Co. Request international law enforcement agencies to bring the Guta’s & co back in chains. Do not believe for one moment nobody knows how billions are move, it is impossible, if SA law enforcement can assist you ask the FBI, MI6, Mossad, KGB etc. to assist, but bring them back in chains to serve their terms in a SA jail, perhaps then you’ll convince SA.

End of comments.





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