The South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA) has welcomed the new requirement for all tax practitioners to be registered with an accredited controlling body, but has also raised concerns about the process itself.
The process is now underway, with SARS calling for controlling bodies to apply for accreditation, and registration of tax practitioners set to begin on 1 July 2013.
"Based on international experience and SAIPA's own research, we are confident that this combination of self-regulation and external regulation will be beneficial to the industry and help it provide better service to its clients," said Faith Ngwenya, technical and standards executive at SAIPA.
"Effective regulation plays a key role in building the credibility of tax practitioners. It will help business people identify service providers with up-to-date skills and who are governed by an effective code of conduct. This, in turn, will help strengthen the South African economy, which relies heavily on the services of tax practitioners," said Ngwenya.
She added that the new solution will offer the best of both worlds because it will allow the industry to regulate itself through existing professional organisations like SAIPA. Because they must become members of the professional organisation, they have to agree to be bound by its code of conduct and ethics, and will have to submit to its disciplinary procedures. These practitioners will be able to keep their skills current through the organisation's continuous professional development programme.
"Self-regulation with public oversight allows the profession to be run by those who understand it, but avoids the implication that it's just an 'insiders' club'. It's all about professionalising the tax practitioner industry," said Ngwenya.
There are currently around 56 000 tax practitioners registered with SARS. The upcoming registration process is also expected to act as a validation exercise, as those who are currently registered but not practising will fall away.
SAIPA’s concerns about the transition
While, as noted, SAIPA broadly welcomes this move, Ngwenya said there were concerns around the transition.
“One concern is how seamless the transition is going to be - we trust that SARS has done its homework to see a smooth implementation of this ground breaking section of the Tax Administration Act,” said Ngwenya.
Another concern is the status of taxpayers whose tax practitioners elect not to register under the new system. These taxpayers could find themselves in limbo and members of SAIPA feel that a process needs to be in place to provide them with an alternative tax practitioner who is registered.
"Any transition always creates risk, and it's very important that SARS communicate the processes it has in place to ensure a smooth switchover. SARS will also need to indicate what kind of support controlling bodies can offer during this process," said Ngwenya.