Finance Indaba 2016: Tax Ombud offers taxpayers a resolution avenue

"When people receive a below-par standard of service from Sars, our office offers a free channel to air complaints," says Advocate Eric Mkhawane, CEO in the Office of the Tax Ombud, a silver partner at the Finance Indaba Africa 2016 on 13 and 14 October 2016 at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg.

The office was established in October 2013 to enhance the tax administration system and provide an independent redress channel for taxpayers who had exhausted the normal South African Revenue Service (Sars) complaints mechanisms.

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In the coming weeks and months, we will be chatting to all the Indaba partners, asking them why they are joining the event and what their most important message for finance professionals is.

Do you want to hear how the Office of the Tax Ombud is resolving taxpayer issues? Do you want to be informed about the latest and greatest in finance? Then don't miss the Finance Indaba Africa 2016.

Why will you be present at the Finance Indaba?
"We are a new office and of course we want the public to know more about us and what we do, otherwise there is no point us being around. In a nutshell, it is to make sure that the people in attendance get to know about us, our function and our mandate."

What will you be talking about?
"Our presentation will revolve around the office itself, its workings and its mandate, as well as our experiences thus far. We will be covering our successes and typical cases and complaints that are coming through to the office. It is important to note that when people receive a below-par standard of service from the Sars, our office offers a free channel to air complaints. We will then attempt to resolve these issues. Instead of people running to court and have to incur extensive litigation costs, this is another avenue that they can utilise. We assist every taxpayer, regardless of whether they have money. It may be a listed company or a layperson - the office's doors are open to everyone."

What is the Tax Ombud's relationship with Sars?
"The office is a wholly independent body. There are no reporting lines with the Sars. The Office of the Tax Ombud reports to the minister of finance, like Sars. We both have the same boss. We play an oversight role over Sars and examine its dealings with taxpayers. If there is something untoward, we have to point it out for them to correct. We compile an annual report that goes to the minister and is tabled in Parliament. On a quarterly basis, we write to the Sars commissioner to tell him about our work and the kind of complaints we receive."

What has the response from taxpayers been?
"We've been receiving a significant and growing number of complaints each month. The challenge has been starting from scratch without a website, premises or staff. Recruitment and marketing has been crucial, because the more we talk about the office, the more complaints we receive, because more people get to know about us. In the past financial year, we have handled more than 2 000 complaints. In terms of successes in resolving those complaints that fall within our mandate, about 80% go in favour of the taxpayer. Sars is an incredible organisation, but it doesn't mean that it does not have issues, which we pick up here and there. They need to address these and we advise them accordingly."

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