The tax ombudsman Judge Bernard Ngoepe has expressed his frustration at the clause in the Tax Administration Act that requires his office to seek ministerial approval for probes and systemic reviews, calling for an enabling piece of legislation to be enacted for his office.
Speaking during a panel discussion at the launch of the office’s annual report and fifth-year anniversary event at the Protea Fire and Ice hotel in Pretoria on Tuesday, Ngoepe described the clause as “stupid” and “silly”.
“I am beginning to think that if our efforts don’t bear fruits, I will advise the stakeholders to test the constitutional validity of this silly provision,” Ngoepe said.
A clearly frustrated Ngoepe said there were instances where his hands were tied because he had no power to take matters further.
Ngoepe said he was not convinced that the office was serving taxpayers as effectively as it should, and much more could still be done.
“I am not convinced that everybody knows the office exists, let alone its mandate. I am concerned that there’s a large body of taxpayers out there who are not aware of the existence of our office.
“Second, as much as we are a national office, we only have an office in Pretoria and we have no provincial footprints and that means we are not accessible to some people because some people still believe in walk-ins and sitting down and talking,” he said.
Speaking to City Press, the chief executive of the Office of the Tax Ombudsman, Advocate Eric Mkhawane, said the provision has led to some frustration within the organisation as sometimes approvals were not given timeously.
Mkhawane said some approvals take up to two months, but his office had already made a submission to Parliament for an amendment earlier this year.
He also said that a submission on a possible Tax Ombud Act and a working model proposal had already been developed.
Though the five-year-old organisation had separate premises and staff, it still depended on the South African Revenue Service (Sars) for a number of its operational needs, including budget.
According to Mkhawane more than 99% of recommendations made by the tax ombud were implemented by Sars and that the number of contacts increased from 670 in the 2013/14 financial year, to more than 17 000 in the 2017/18 financial year.
He said refunds still remained the bulk of the complaints the office receives and Gauteng, because of its large tax base, accounts for the majority of the complaints.