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New Tax Ombudsman
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The appointment of Unisa Chancellor Judge Bernard Ngoepe by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan as the first Tax Ombudsman of South Africa is a great achievement for Unisa, demonstrating the university’s commitment to shaping futures, say Unisa tax experts. Weighing in on the importance and possible impact a tax ombudsman has for the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and the country’s citizens, they said Judge Ngoepe’s stature and standing will command respect from SARS and taxpayers alike.


Gordhan, who made the announcement on 1 October, said Judge Ngoepe has sound experience in exercising impartiality, and an understanding of how best to balance the powers and duties of SARS and the rights and obligations of taxpayers. Above all, he is proficient in tax and administrative law.  The appointment is in terms of the Tax Administration Act of 2011, and the office is intended to provide taxpayers with a low-cost mechanism to address administrative difficulties that cannot be resolved by SARS.


Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mandla Makhanya, congratulated Judge Ngoepe on his appointment, and said it speaks to the calibre of professionals associated with Unisa. As the university celebrates 140 years of shaping futures, it is appointments such as this one, which place Unisa in a fundamental position to affect the society it serves, asserted the VC. “As our Chancellor, Judge Ngoepe continues to serve the university with dedication and distinction. We are more than confident that, as one of the leading jurists on our continent, having served as Judge President of the North and South Gauteng High Courts and also as the current Vice-President of the African Court, his experience in exercising impartiality will be an asset in balancing the powers and duties of the South African Revenue Service.”


Tax Law Subject Head in the College of Law, Professor Annet Wanyana Oguttu, said the appointment has again put Unisa at the forefront on the national scene. On how South Africans will benefit, she said there are often disputes between SARS and taxpayers on SARS services, its procedures and its tax administration in general. The perception is that SARS acted both as a judge and arbiter in the matters and that their complaints were not fairly resolved. For too long, South African taxpayers have been without an independent authority able to take up issues they may have with SARS. “Having a tax ombudsman to review taxpayers’ complaints against SARS and to resolve the same through mediation or conciliation will ensure fairness and certainty, and accountability from SARS. The ombudsman will be of great help to ordinary taxpayers who have legitimate grievances with SARS, and yet do not have the means and resources to take on the might of SARS.”


Oguttu, who herself was recently appointed by Gordhan as a member of the Tax Review Committee, explained the operations of the office of the ombudsman. “They will look at service, procedural or administrative matters such as the failure to adhere to correct procedures prescribed by the Income Tax Act and the failure to respond to a taxpayer’s correspondence. In discharging his mandate, the ombudsman must, amongst other things, act independently, review a complaint and, if necessary, resolve it through mediation or conciliation, follow informal, fair and cost-effective procedures, facilitate access by taxpayers to complaint resolution mechanisms within SARS, and identify and review systemic and emerging issues that impact negatively on taxpayers.”


However, the ombudsman may not review legislation, policy, generally prevailing practice, nor matters subject to objection and appeal except to the extent they relate to service, procedure or administration. In addition, the office may not review pending matters or decisions of the tax court, said Oguttu.


Manager at Unisa’s Centre for Accounting Studies, Werner Uys, said for South Africans the appointment of Judge Ngoepe heralds a greater awareness of taxpayers’ rights. The Tax Administration Act (TAA) incorporates an independent Tax Ombudsman, whose purpose is to look after the interests of taxpayers. In terms of the act, the ombudsman will be an independent official employed in terms of the South African Revenue Service Act and who will act as a taxpayer’s advocate. The officials in this office will address any complaint by a taxpayer on service and administrative or procedural matters in respect of the TAA. In terms of the act, the Tax Ombudsman may provide taxpayers relief when the commissioner’s officials fail to fully respect their rights. In the long run, the Tax Ombudsman, as the key stakeholder in dealing with disputes between SARS and taxpayers, can create an effective platform for dealing with such disputes.”


Odette Swart, Deputy Chair of the Department of Taxation described the appointment of Judge Ngoepe as a “fantastic achievement”. She said it is important to have a Tax Ombudsman to achieve parity between the tax authorities and taxpayers, adding that with the promulgation of the TAA in 2011 it became imperative there should be an ombudsman and this appointment is thus long overdue. “The TAA places a huge burden of compliance on taxpayers and, at the moment, SARS interprets and applies this act very strictly and, sometimes, unfairly in favour of itself, but to the detriment of the taxpayer. It is hoped that the Tax Ombudsman will alleviate this problem.” It is especially important, continued Swart, that the ombudsman be independent. “This appointment will therefore not necessarily assist SARS but it will definitely benefit the taxpayers in South Africa as the Tax Ombudsman, as an external independent person, can give an unbiased opinion on tax related matters and achieve better parity between the taxpayer and SARS.


Further details about the office, including when it will begin accepting cases, will be announced shortly.


sourced from www.unisa.ac.za

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