SARS boss sends harsh message to South Africa

South Africa will never have enough money to do the things it needs to do, says SARS commissioner Edward Kieswetter.

Speaking at a panel hosted by Deloitte on Thursday (3 March), Kieswetter said this issue is not unique to the government and is similar to the problem that many South African households face in that there is never enough money to do the things they want to do.

“But you have to use the money you have better – and (the government) is not. We still have too much wastage and administrative inefficiencies before we even tackle the issue of corruption.

“There are a few things that I think would make an exponential improvement in the way government runs.”

Things take too long

The first key issue facing the country is that it simply takes too long to get things done – especially when it comes to policy formulation, Kieswetter said.

The SARS boss said that South Africa has an ‘us vs them’ mindset ingrained in society, with a lack of social cohesion impeding needed policies from moving forward.

He added that this was not limited to a societal level, but takes place within the government itself, which also faces a general inability to execute on issues.

“It just takes too long to do anything in South Africa,” he said.

South Africa does not promote excellence

Kieswetter said that South Africa currently does not have an environment that ‘enables excellence’.

“Our entire PFMA (Public Finance Management Act) has become an instrument to ensure you get a clean audit rather than perform excellently,” he said.

“We celebrate a ‘clean audit’ even though there is no service delivery as it has become the gold standard. We have become so obsessed with a clean audit that the easiest way to achieve it is to do nothing. If you did that in business you would be fired.”

Kieswetter said that SARS spends an inordinate amount of time justifying basic decisions to auditors and other oversight bodies due to regulatory constraints.

He provided an anecdote where the tax body was audited for a piece of translation work:

“Let’s say for example SARS puts out a tender to translate 1,000 French words into English. The quote comes back and it happens to be that if you translate 1,000 French words, you get about 1,200 English words.

“So we proceed with the translation and then get an audit finding. It would have been better to go out for three more tenders for another 200 hundred words and pay double for the work – but we would have avoided an audit finding.”

Kieswetter said that procurement just does not work in government and does not stop billions of rands of corruption. But it does hamstring chief executives who want to run the daily operations.


Kieswetter said that building capabilities to do basic things requires a ‘relentless amount’ of effort.

He added that there was no room for compromise and that you have to hire the best people – although this was very often not the case and that SARS has been forced to compromise in several areas.

Read: South Africa’s growing tax problem

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SARS boss sends harsh message to South Africa