Think long and hard before joining a tax revolt in South Africa

 ·7 Feb 2023

South African Revenue Service (SARS) commissioner Edward Kieswetter says that the risk of a tax revolt in South Africa is always present, but he believes that the majority of South Africans know that it is not the right thing to do.

Frustrated taxpayers are often confronted with the question, “why even pay taxes?” – particularly when it appears as if money is being thrown into a black hole with taxpayers not getting any benefit from the money they put in.

Taxpayers in South Africa are essentially subjected to double tax: having to hand over taxes to SARS that go into the national fiscus and then having to turn to private companies for services that the state fails to deliver. This includes private security, private schooling, private healthcare and, increasingly, private power supplies.

Kieswetter said that bad news in South Africa is amplified – as it ought to be. However, this is used to justify not paying taxes. The argument is self-defeating, he said.

“Any contribution to further a lack of law and order makes you part of the problem,” he said, adding that when you don’t pay taxes, it’s not the government that suffers, but rather the most vulnerable in society that ultimately benefits from the government’s social programmes.

“While it is not sustainable to have 29 million people on social grants, it is a safety net that protects people from destitution and even demise,” he said.

Despite this viewpoint, Kieswetter said he is not blind to the reality in South Africa. The majority of the country is disenchanted with the state of affairs and the lack of progress being made by the government, he said. This has only been exacerbated by the inordinate disruption of load shedding.

“To deny that would be burying our head in the sand. People are tired of excuses and lack of delivery (from the government),” he said.

“But I believe that even the majority of South Africans (who are gatvol) are moderate and will think long and hard before joining a tax revolt. Not a service delivery march – but withholding taxes. They know this will hurt the population at large,” he said.

Democracy is key

The SARS chief was blunt about the current state of governance in the country, saying that the government has not done enough to “earn the level of capability South Africa deserves”.

He said that he is always frank in his discussions with the government when it comes to these issues.

“No matter what policies we make and grandise (sic) the victory over apartheid – right now, service delivery is the issue,” he said. The government needs to deliver material change – and if it can’t it deserves all the fire it is getting from the public.

Kieswetter said that inefficiency is built into government, and that slow progress is a matter of political will, but also competence.

Having been the CEO of a listed and unlisted company, the SARS chief said that things move a lot faster in the private sector, which has a strong bias for action.

With the government, however, everything is delayed and is burdened with inefficiencies. Things that should take days, end up taking months. This leads to big frustrations, as decisions that need to be made can’t be made. The framework (of government) has been designed to constrain, not free up, resources, he said.

Adding to the frustrations is the fact that none of the onerous regulations and hurdles has managed to stop corruption. Billions of rands were stolen during Covid by political elites and private businesses, he said.

Kieswetter said that democracy is the key.

“We vote for the government we want,” he said. Every fundamental change that has occurred in the country hasn’t come because of the government, it has come from the people.

Withholding taxes aggravates the problems that persist in the country – but becoming an activist and choosing better leaders will. If the government does not deliver, then they should be voted out, he said. “Democratic principles lead.”

Read: Warning over load shedding revolt as South Africa hits 100 consecutive days of blackouts

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