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SARS bleed senior management staff

By Staff Writer
Over the past few months several of SARS' senior staff members have either resigned or been suspended. The concern is how this could affect the public, as well as ongoing investigations that have been carried out by some of these officials.
 
SARS claims that their operations have not been affected by the recent loss of staff. Marc Sevitz, a director at TaxTim concurs: "As far as we are aware, there have not been any delays, other than the usual bureaucratic hold ups and we shouldn't expect there to be any, especially so close to budget day."
 
However, some believe that the cause behind these resignations and suspensions need to be further investigated, and that it may affect staff morale, which could in the long run affect their work.
 
Further investigation
 
In a statement released this week, DA shadow minister of finance Dr Dion George has said that the DA will be writing to President Jacob Zuma to request that he institutes a Judicial Commission of Inquiry in accordance with section 84(2)(f) of the Constitution in order to investigate the current administrative disorder and the alleged political removal of senior staff that has been taking place at SARS.
 
Many of these suspensions or resignations have allegedly been the result of disciplinary action relating to supposed wrongdoings committed by one of the SARS units, who apparently carried out sensitive investigations. These investigations include a probe into the ANC's tax bill, as well as a probe into the President's tax bill.
 
George added: "Given Parliament's agenda at the moment it is highly unlikely that it will hear and proceed with the matter expeditiously. Therefore, given the seriousness of this matter and the implications this will undoubtedly have for high-profile investigations, we believe an independent judicial probe is necessary if this matter is to be handled with the speed and attention it deserves."
 
According to George, he has contacted several people and made several attempts to get information on the current situation at SARS with regards to these sensitive investigations, to which he has not yet had any responses.
 
He said: "This raises more questions than answers, and as the body responsible for the effective administration of taxpayers' money it should be above reproach. The DA is committed to ensuring that all state institutions are completely independent and free from political interference. In order to do so, a Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the matter is required."
 
Recent resignations and suspensions
 
According Sevitz, SARS is such a large organisation, the recent suspensions and resignations should not affect it. However, he adds that it is disturbing that many of the people who have left are senior management.
 
"Whilst it is true that the recent spate of resignations and suspensions at SARS is undoubtedly disturbing, we have to remember that SARS is a very large agency employing thousands of people and employees leaving ideally should not affect the day to day operations. However given that it's most senior leaders have left, many being responsible for the innovation we have seen over the last few years, there will be question marks as to how quickly they can be replaced and will SARS' innovation be delayed," said Sevitz.
 
The most recent resignation of executive in charge of enforcement and investigations Johann van Loggerenberg has many wondering what will happen to the investigations that are currently underway.
 
In a press release on Wednesday last week, SARS confirmed that van Loggerenberg had resigned with immediate effect. It said: "SARS has accepted his resignation and hereby confirms that the parting of ways was amicable and agreed to be in the best interests of SARS."
 
Van Loggerenberg worked for SARS for over 16 years. At the time of his resignation was overseeing several investigations, including one into Radovan Krejcir, a Czech businessman and fugitive who is currently on trial for several crimes, including murder.
 
According to reports, the units that were overseen by van Loggerenberg are currently in a state of disorder, with one having been disbanded, while the unit head of the other having been removed.
 
The investigations that van Loggerenberg oversaw included:
 
  • A tax inquiry into Jen Chih "Robert" Huang, who has alleged ties to President Zuma's nephew Khulubuse Zuma.
  • An investigation into alleged gangster Mark Lifman, who supposedly attend a function for the African National Congress (ANC) as a VIP guest last year.
 
Luther Lebelo, the SARS executive for employee relations said: "The resignation of Mr Johann van Loggerenberg will not have a significant impact on current SARS investigations. Effectively, Van Loggerenberg has been out of his position – either on Special Leave or on suspension - since around May 2014 when allegations of impropriety were reported to SARS. A formal and official hand-over and updated project plans was implemented before Mr Van Loggerenberg went on Special Leave."
 
He adds that the cases have been successfully handed over. "[There] is an established institutionalised operating system in enforcement which will make transition of roles between managers seamless in case of any eventuality, including suspensions. All managers and technical teams responsible for the projects at different levels remain in place and that ensures stability and continuity of operations."
 
Reshuffling at SARS
 
On Friday 30 January, anticorruption and security head Clifford Collings resigned, following two other resignations by senior staff since December 2014, chief operating officer Barry Hore and his deputy Jerome Frey. With three other senior staff members, deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay, head of strategic planning and risk Peter Richer and special adviser to Pillay, Yolisa Pikie, being suspended.
 
According to Lebelo, as no individual is solely responsible for an investigation or project, all SARS systems will continue to run as planned. SARS has appointed new officials to act in the positions of those who have resigned or been suspended.
 
"SARS operations to support the execution of its mandate – to collect all revenues due to the State – continues with the rest of more than 14 000 employees," added Lebelo.
 
Patrick Moeng will be acting as executive in charge of enforcement and investigations until the end of February 2015. Lebelo said that all normal human resource processes will be followed when filling the position permanently.
 
Sevitz believes that these resignations and suspensions may lead to older investigations being reopened as there has been so much media coverage on this in recent months.
 
"We may see some of the older bigger cases that were settled, being reopened as there is not a bigger spotlight on negotiated settlements due to the role played by many of the suspended officials. The public shouldn't be concerned and unfortunately SARS continue collecting taxes with as much gusto as it has ever done. The biggest concern would be staff morale which may hamper the day to day running of SARS, so let's hope this get dealt with quickly," adds Sevitz.

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