“Being in uncharted waters does not mean that you proceed without a plan. It simply means that you proceed with utmost caution, you use the best evidence available…” Commissioner of the South African Revenue Services (SARS), Edward Kieswetter, stated during yesterdays (5 May) discussion about how the organisation is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amidst unprecedented times, Edward expressed, now more than ever, the government needs tax revenue to provide relief to both businesses and individuals suffering under the already constrained economic environment.

April was a rough month for the country, seeing a revenue shortfall of R9 billion (8.8% compared to April 2019). PAYE was down 5.2%, domestic VAT collection was 4.3% lower, import taxes declined almost 20% and excise taxes fell 54% (R1.3 billion). Although April is not a significant month for corporate taxes, there are still many unknown and indeterminate variables in the longer term.

In light of the pandemic, SARS have reviewed the way that they work, establishing the Vision 2024 plan and building a “smart, modern SARS with unquestionable integrity, trusted and admired”

30 additional functionalities have been added by the technology and data management teams to the digital offering. These include:

  • Automated registration for Personal Income Tax
  • Notice of Registration for VAT is now available on e-filing, allowing VAT vendors to view, print or save their Notice of Registration.
  • Taxpayers can use the enhanced e-filing system to: check their compliance status; review their registration details; complete proof of registration and obtain a statement of account, both individuals and businesses.
  • Non-filers can now submit supporting documents via the web
  • Suspended the need for VAT interviews as a pre-registration requirement. It has been moved to a post registration requirement.
  • They have developed a streamlined banking details verification process by using enhanced data matching and artificial intelligence based verification.
  • Enhanced the process for online tax directives where individual taxpayers or their practitioners may apply via e-filing.
  • Integrated the email system to allow taxpayers to send queries via email – this has allowed staff working from home to resolve taxpayer queries
  • Introduced an online appointment system for those taxpayers and tax practitioners who remain insistent or unable to convert to digital offerings.
  • Enhanced website with enabling information and FAQs to assist taxpayers, traders and practitioners.

SARS has stepped up communications with employees and engaged with leadership of organised labour in order to bring clarity and understanding around new strategies and workplace arrangements. But as they continue to review and modify their responses, the question remains, who will come out on top of this battle; COVID-19 or our country’s economy?