SARS is on tech and data science hiring drive

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) has launched a new recruitment drive, targeting highly skilled workers to help build a data-driven ‘smart tax authority’.

Citing rapidly evolving technological innovation, SARS said it is preparing for a world where its work is increasingly informed by:

  • Data-driven insights;
  • Machine learning;
  • Algorithms;
  • Artificial intelligence;
  • Interconnectivity of people and devices.

“We are on an exciting journey to build a smart modern SARS with unquestionable integrity, trusted and admired by all. Our mandate is to ensure optimal compliance with tax and customs legislation,” it said.

“We do this through fostering a culture of voluntary compliance and by making it easy for taxpayers and traders to comply with their legal obligations.”

The revenue service directed potential candidates to its recruitment page to apply.

SARS has been pushing to use computer algorithms, machine learning and other advanced technologies to ensure taxpayer compliance.

In its annual report published on 27 October, the revenue collector said it has ‘significantly expanded the scope of detection’, beyond data obtained through declarations, as well as the traditional third party data received which enabled the pre-filling of PIT returns, as well as auto assessments.

“Examples of such data sources include historical data on compliance behaviour as well as data regarding financial flows and assets held both locally and abroad,” it said.

SARS said it has also implemented several machine learning models that leverage multiple asset and income stream data sources to detect non-declaration and under-declaration.

Rebuild 

The move to recapacitate SARS comes after the revenue collector was ‘systemically and deliberately weakened’ through years of state capture.

This is according to the first part of the Zondo Commission Report, published at the start of January, which shows that the body was effectively dismantled under former president Jacob Zuma and former commissioner Tom Moyane.

The report highlighted a massive failure of integrity and governance at SARS, demonstrated by what the tax body once was, and what it has become.

“That state of affairs was brought about by the (at least) reckless mismanagement of SARS on the part of Mr Moyane. What occurred at SARS was inevitable the moment Mr Moyane set foot there. He dismantled the elements of governance one by one. This was more than mere mismanagement. It was seizing control of SARS as if it was his to have,” it said.

This was done in a number of ways, including:

  • The failure of good governance was manifested from the fact that senior management was driven out or marginalised at SARS. Their replacements, appointed by Moyane, were simply compliant and neglected their oversight function.
  • The development of SARS’ sophisticated Information Technology systems was summarily halted, while the organisational structure of SARS that provided oversight was pulled apart.
  • Instead of fostering a culture of healthy dissent, Moyane engendered a culture of fear and intimidation. Dissent was stamped out by instilling distrust and fear, while accountability to other state authorities was defied and capacity for investigating corruption was disabled.
  • SARS’ investigatory and enforcement capacity presented a hurdle to those involved in organised crime, and was, therefore, a target for those engaged in state capture. The involvement of the media in perpetuating false narratives which discredited targeted people as well as providing grounds for their removal was a notable feature of the evidence led in regard to the capture of SARS.
  • Some of SARS’s most important units, which were set up to ensure tax compliance, were disbanded or restructured such that important projects were put on hold or abandoned, thus fundamentally weakening the revenue collection function.

“All these actions and events cannot be coincidental. This is especially so in the light of the planning documents which the Commission has been shown,” the Zondo Commission said.


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SARS is on tech and data science hiring drive