Office of the Tax Ombud launched

May 1st, 2014
x
Bookmark

By Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele

Taxpayers who feel that they have been unfairly treated now have an avenue to air their grievances. The first ever South African Office of the Tax Ombud was officially launched on 7 April by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

The objective of the Tax Ombud is to review and address complaints by taxpayers regarding service, procedural or administrative issues relating to their dealings with the South African Revenue Service (SARS).

According to Minister Gordhan, the Tax Ombud is an additional and free avenue to deal with complaints by taxpayers that cannot be resolved through SARS’s internal mechanisms.

In a press release, the Finance Ministry said that the Tax Ombud is intended to be a simple and affordable remedy to taxpayers who have legitimate complaints that relate to administrative matters, poor service or the failure by SARS to observe taxpayer rights.

According to s 17 of the Tax Administration Act 28 of 2011, the Tax Ombud may not review –

  • legislation or tax policy;
  • SARS policy or practice generally prevailing, other than to the extent that it relates to a service matter or a procedural or administrative matter arising from the application of the provisions of a tax Act by SARS;
  • a matter subject to objection and appeal under a tax Act, except for an administrative matter relating to such objection and appeal; or
  • a decision of, proceeding in or matter before the tax court.

‘In discharging its mandate, the Tax Ombud’s office must review a complaint and if necessary, resolve it through mediation or conciliation with SARS officials specifically identified to interact with the Tax Ombud’s office. The Tax Ombud may only review a complaint after a taxpayer has exhausted SARS’ internal complaints resolution mechanisms. Direct access to the Tax Ombud will be allowed only if there are compelling circumstances for doing so,’ states the press release.

Although the office was officially launched in April 2013, the Tax Ombud, retired Judge Bernard Ngoepe was appointed in October 2013.

Judge Ngoepe served as the Judge President of the North and South Gauteng High Courts for 14 years. He was the first black judge to be accepted onto the Pretoria Bar in 1995.

Judge Ngoepe has also acted for a term as a Constitutional Court Judge. In 2006 he was appointed as part-time Judge of the African Union’s African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights. He is presently Vice-President of the court.

Before sitting on the Bench, Judge Ngoepe was admitted as an attorney in 1976 and practised until 1983 when he was admitted as an advocate. In 1994 his career reached another peak when he was appointed senior counsel.

Judge Ngoepe has been a member of a number of bodies such as the Amnesty Committee of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Judicial Service Commission, the Court of Military Appeals, the Magistrates Commission, the Appeals Panel of the Press Council of South Africa and the Appeals Board of the South African Council for Medical Schemes. He has been the chairperson of most of these bodies, a title he still holds. He is also the chancellor of the University of South Africa.

In the press release he said: ‘Our challenge as the office of the Tax Ombud is not just about affording the taxpayer a fair hearing, or the provision of service; it is much more than that. It is also about providing information that is easily accessible and understandable. In addition, the office treats the taxpayer public with utmost dignity and respect and provides an open, accountable and timely service. It also renders well-reasoned decisions in respect of actions taken by it.’

According to Judge Ngoepe, the office operates independently of SARS and treats all communication between it and the taxpayer with strict confidence. The office expects to contribute towards boosting the taxpayers’ confidence in tax administration, which will hopefully result in better tax compliance.

The chief executive officer of the Office of the Tax Ombud is advocate Eric Mkhawane. Mr  Mkhawane practised as an attorney until 1998 when he joined SARS as a manager in its legal department. He was later appointed as a regional manager for enforcement from 2005 until 2010 when he was admitted as an advocate of the High Court (Johannesburg Bar).

Mr Mkhawane told De Rebus that since the office opened in the beginning of October last year to date, over 700 matters had been received. However, not all the matters were complaints, some were inquiries on how the office works, how to lodge a complaint etcetera and that only 61 of the matters fell into the office’s mandate.

Mr Mkhawane said that 70% of the 61 matters that fell within the Tax Ombud’s mandate had been resolved and that the remaining 30% awaiting finalisation were still within the turnaround time. He said that the office was waiting for more information on those matters from SARS.

Mr Mkhawane also said that the complaints received thus far were from both individuals and businesses and that the queries involved different aspects such as refunds, service delivery and correct procedures by SARS. He added that complaints can also be lodged online.

The Co-Chairperson of the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA), Ettienne Barnard, attended the launch. Speaking from the floor, he said that the LSSA welcomed the launch as the office would help in broadening access to justice. He also pledged cooperation from the attorneys’ profession.

The Tax Ombud reports directly to the Finance Minister and the Ombud’s annual report must be tabled in Parliament by the minister.

Section 259(2) of the Tax Administration Act sets a one year retrospective time limit for complaints. It states: ‘The first Tax Ombud appointed under this Act may not review a matter that arose more than one year before the day on which the Tax Ombud is appointed, unless the Minister requests the Tax Ombud to do so.’

This means that since the Tax Ombud was appointed with effect from 1 October 2013, matters that arose before 1 October 2012 may not be considered by the office unless requested by the minister.

The Tax Ombud can be reached at:

Tel: 0800 662 837

Fax: (012) 452 5013

E-mail: complaints@taxombud.gov.za

www.taxombud.gov.za

Physical address: IParioli building, Block A3, Ground Floor; 1166 Park Street (Between Jan Shoba and Grosvenor Streets), Hatfield, Pretoria.

Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele, nomfundo@derebus.org.za

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2014 (May) DR 14.

 

X