Today, the Office of the Tax Ombud (OTO) is launching an educational campaign intensifying awareness about its free and impartial services and educating the public about taxpayer rights and obligations. Themed: ‘Making Taxpayers’ Rights Matter’, the campaign is timed to coincide with the South African Revenue Services’ (SARS) 2023 tax season and displays the OTO’s commitment to helping improve the South African tax administration system by protecting taxpayer rights and promoting tax compliance.
The centrality of the taxpayer
In an exclusive interview with Business Report, the newly appointed and first female Tax Ombud Yanga Mputa, unpacked the campaign stating that it also seeks to reiterate the OTO’s commitment to improving customer centricity and trust in the country’s tax administration system. She added that taxpayers need to be treated fairly and with respect as without their taxes, there will be no revenue to fund state programmes such as hospitals, schools and paying social grants. “The taxpayer is the centre of the [tax] universe in any country,” said Mputa.
The campaign is being rolled out through various communication and marketing platforms including billboards, broadcast, print, digital and social media platforms. “We will also take our services to the doorsteps of communities through mall activations and stakeholder engagements, reiterating our commitment to promoting a fair tax administration system to taxpayers and taxpayer representatives. “We will be at the Fourways Mall in Johannesburg on 22-28 August, and Canal Walk Mall in Cape Town from 24 – 28 October 2023. On 17 August we are in Polokwane engaging Recognised Controlling Bodies. In addition to promoting awareness, we will also assist taxpayers with status updates on their complaints as well as with lodging new complaints,” said Mputa.
Mputa added that the OTO was established to primarily assist taxpayers with complaints against the SARS. “But to do so, taxpayers must know and understand their rights and obligations, and this is part of the reason we came up with this campaign. We must also encourage tax compliance, taxpayers need to know that whilst we champion their rights, we will not assist people to dodge their tax obligations. You can’t say I know my rights and obligations and yet don’t comply with the legislation,” said Mputa.
Improving the Office’s profile
Mputa said she inherits a strong institution and would continue to promote the visibility and profile of the Office. Part of this includes increasing the footprint in different provinces as the OTO has a single office in Pretoria. “But before we build offices we need to ensure that we intensify awareness among taxpayers and grow our complaints book. There is no way we will build regional offices when our complaints book at the head office is not that big,” said Mputa.
Delayed payment of tax refunds
Mputa also touched on common tax complaints the OTO receives, which include delayed payment of tax refunds which continues to top the list of complaints from taxpayers. Mputa attributed this to several factors, including “stoppers” placed on taxpayers’ accounts when the revenue collector conducts audits.
There are also instances when delays are caused by taxpayers when they fail to submit the required documentary evidence or proof to SARS, and sometimes taxpayers fail to update and confirm banking details,” said Mputa. She added that the OTO is working closely with SARS to address delays in the payment of tax refunds as well as other systemic issues and that hundreds of millions of rands in tax refunds have already been paid back to taxpayers through OTO’s intervention.
Beacon of hope
Mputa said the OTO is the taxpayers’ beacon of hope as it is functionally independent of SARS. “The independence of the OTO is the cornerstone of this office because it builds its success and credibility. Our budget is ring-fenced since 2016, so SARS doesn’t have a say in how much we should get; this is determined by the finance minister”, said Mputa.
But she hastened to add that the OTO is operationally dependent on SARS. “We still share IT and human resources systems including supply chain or procurement with SARS,” said Mputa, adding this is not unusual as many businesses in the private sector also outsource certain functions. Furthermore, SARS has implemented 98% of its non-binding recommendations, and 80% of the complaints were resolved in favour of taxpayers. “This speaks to the rationality, soundness and fairness of our recommendations,” she said.
Bringing wealth of experience
Mputa brings with her a wealth of experience having worked at the National Treasury and SARS for over 30 years formulating key tax policies, including those that guide the functions of the OTO and systemic reviews.
“What is nice is that from the policy side, I know what is required in running the Office. On the tax administration side of things, I have worked at SARS Large Business Centre, doing complicated tax cases and I was also on the international tax dealing with multinationals. I understand the audit process as well as the tax advisory. So, the combination of policy and tax advisory will assist taxpayers with their complaints relating to SARS treatment,” she concluded.