Public Protector’s office, Sars’ credibility on downward slope with South Africans

2019-07-12 17:34

The Public Protector’s office and the South African Revenue Service (Sars) are two institutions that South Africans are fast growing wary of.

This is according to a survey conducted by the South African Citizens Survey (Sacs) in June which revealed that “trust in Sars which held steady at 61% in April and May, declined by 3% to 58% in June and that, similarly, the trust in the Public Protector’s office had also dropped from 58% in April to 56% in May. There was a further drop in June to 53%.”

The results come just as Sars enters its official tax filing season and are encouraging the South African public to file their tax returns.

In an effort to determine the level of trust the South Africans have in public institutions, including Sars and the Public Protector’s office, Sacs – a marketing and social research consultancy specialising in national research studies – conducted a survey to determine the credibility of these institutions as perceived by the public.

“We asked a representative sample of 1 300 South Africans who are 18 years and older from across the country the question: “How much do you trust Sars, how much do you trust the National Prosecuting Authority,” explained Sacs strategic research director and spokesperson Reza Omar.

“The response codes are no trust, little trust, some trust, a lot of trust, don’t know, no response. So what we look at are the responses of ‘some trust’ and ‘a lot of trust.’; the proportion of people who give those responses,” he said.

According to Omar, trust in Sars hit rock bottom in 2018 in correlation with the beginning of the Nugent Commission of Inquiry and the revelations about the cost of State Capture.

“Trust improved over the election period, however, in June trust in Sars was once again on the decline,” he said.

“South Africans who have been battered by a contracting economy and have been stretching their budgets are once again going to be asked to dig deeper.”

In May 2018 President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed retired judge Robert Nugent to head up a commission of inquiry into governance and administration at the state owned entity.

The trust South Africans have in the country's public institution - SARS - has shown a steady decline. Picture: Supplied/ Citizens Survey

Terms of reference included the impact that the conduct of Sars management had on its public image and the integrity of tender processes.

Omar added: “Given that there is likely to be a shortfall in tax collection and a greater need for tax compliance, restoring high levels of trust in Sars is critical.”

For Omar, the 5% drop in trust [in the Public Protector’s office] over a three-month period came as no surprise.

“Although it is not surprising, considering the amount of political commentary regarding the national elections and state of the nation address that occurred between the months of April and June, it is concerning that just over half of South Africans trust the Public Protector,” he said.

“Her office’s mandate is to strengthen the constitutional democracy, investigate, rectify and redress any improper or prejudicial conduct in state affairs.”

Having become South Africa’s fourth Public Protector in October 2016, Busisiwe Mkhwebane has not been shy in raising concerns regarding a developing mistrust in her office. Mkhwebane stressed how she needed the support of all stakeholders for her office to function effectively.

However, more than two years later, according to Omar, “South Africans are becoming more sceptical that the public prosecutor is likely to be able to fulfil her mandate.”

Since Mkhwebane’s appointment, the office has been under scrutiny from different stakeholders across society, while her appointment by former President Jacob Zuma was met with suspicion.

The Public Protector's Office has, according to a survey by Citizens Survey experienced a decline in trust from South Africans

Things never got easier for the public protector amid concerns raised around errors in some of her reports, including her finding that there was “no wrongdoing” in the controversial Vrede dairy farm project in the Free State.

Mkhwebane took a blow after the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria ruled that she had failed in her duties to investigate and report on the Vrede dairy project.

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May 24 2020