Tax Ombud ‘open’ to serving another term

Completes first term in office at the end of September.

JOHANNESBURG – The Tax Ombud says there has been no discussion about the possible renewal of his term – which comes to an end at the end of September – yet.

But, says judge Bernard Ngoepe, he is open to the renewal as well as the non-renewal of his three-year term.

“I am open to anything,” he told Moneyweb at his office in Menlyn, Pretoria.

The office of the Tax Ombud was set up in terms of the Tax Administration Act (TAA) to provide taxpayers with the opportunity to resolve their concerns about service, procedural and administrative matters speedily, amicably and free of charge. The office does not deal with complaints where a tax liability is disputed or considered unreasonable.

Pravin Gordhan appointed Ngoepe to the position during his previous term as Minister of Finance.

Tax amendments

Ngoepe says his office has made a number of proposals to the Minister to revise the act – and hopes that these changes will be introduced during the next round of amendments.

This process usually gets underway in July when the Draft Amendment Bills are published for public comment.

One of these proposals is to change the period of service of the Tax Ombud from three to five years, he says.

“We believe that three years is too short a period to attract suitably qualified people for the post.”

He believes it is also too short to make a meaningful impact. The international norm seems to be a longer period.

Ngoepe says a comparative study with similar offices indicates that the term of office is generally five years.

Should the amendment be introduced, it would apply to future Tax Ombuds.

Other regulatory amendments it has proposed include that the South African Revenue Service (Sars) should not simply fail to implement or reject its recommendations without providing an explanation.

“We would require that an amendment be made so that they can be obliged to give some reasons. It is really a matter of good governance.”

Ngoepe says he is “not enthusiastic” about demanding that his recommendations should be binding because it could complicate the process.

“If they bind Sars they must also bind the taxpayer. So we are not keen on that one yet.”

Other submissions relate to the independence of his office. Ngoepe believes the office should be in control of its own funds (not Sars) and be able to recruit staff directly without necessarily involving the Commissioner.

Ngoepe says these issues were previously raised with former Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene and are now “being taken further” with Minister Gordhan.

“We as the office of the Tax Ombud hope to see that by the end of July. Whether our hope will materialise is another thing but we are aiming at that and we are hoping for that. We have had discussions with the Ministry, Treasury, as also with Sars as recently as last week. So it is an issue which is very much alive,” he says.

Service Charter

While Ngoepe has previously indicated that his office is pressuring Sars to release an updated Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights and Service Charter – important tools of service measurement – his office has not made as much progress in this regard as it would have liked.

“We are not happy with the way things are going because we do not believe that sufficient progress has been made.”

Ngoepe says it is an important document, as it will enable his office to determine if some of the taxpayer complaints are legitimate.

“We need this document to benchmark Sars services to the taxpayer against it.”

National Treasury did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication. Sars indicated that its turnaround time for response is 24 hours.

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