An appraisal of selected tax-enforcement powers of SARS in the SA Constitutional context

Paper by: Carika Fritz

There is tension between the South African Revenue Service’s duty to collect taxes on the one hand, and its duty to respect taxpayers’ rights on the other. An environment where there is clearly respect for the rights of the taxpayer may indeed result in increased voluntary compliance.

This thesis constitutes a comparative appraisal of whether the following enforcement powers of the South African Revenue Service (“SARS”) in the South African constitutional context, namely (i) SARS’ power to conduct searches and seizures in order to verify compliance and investigate the commission of offences; (ii) the “pay now, argue later” rule; and (iii) the appointment of a third party on behalf of a taxpayer are in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (“Constitution”). It is argued that these powers do not necessarily conform to the Constitution’s values and the fundamental rights contained in the Bill of Rights in Chapter 2 of the Constitution.

To address the apparent shortcomings in the current dispensation, the thesis compares these enforcement powers of SARS with similar powers afforded to the revenue authorities of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Nigeria. Important conclusions are drawn from this comparative review and a number of recommendations for law reform are proposed which, if implemented, would align these enforcement powers with the provisions of the Constitution. The recommendations entail, inter alia, that the seizure component of a search and seizure process should be treated separately, that half of the payment obligation should be suspended until the dispute is heard by an impartial forum, and that an objective measure must be in place to ensure that a taxpayer is able to afford basic necessities when a third party appointment is made.

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