SARS hit by strike while EFF lambasts new boss
On the eve of Thursday's strike by workers at the South African Revenue Service (SARS), President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed Edward Kieswetter as the revenue body's new commissioner.
His task will be to steer the ailing institution back to a position of public trust after its reputation was marred by years of corruption and nepotism.
Kieswetter, who was deputy SARS commissioner from 2004 to 2009, then CEO of Alexander Forbes Group Holdings, takes over on 1 May.
- The appointment ends a year of uncertainly after Tom Moyane, a close associate of Jacob Zuma, was suspended from the post, then sacked in November.
- In February, finance minister Tito Mboweni said the revenue shortfall for the 2019/2020 financial year was expected to be R42.8bn ($2.9bn). The figure had been estimated at R27.4bn in October 2018.
- A commission of enquiry led by retired judge Robert Nugent found that SARS had withheld VAT refunds to boost tax revenues.
- Acting commissioner Mark Kingon has been holding the fort during the enquiry and spoke candidly about the rot within SARS during Moyane’s tenure.
Finance minister Mboweni said he expected Kieswetter to act “without fear or favour” and “to restore and defend the integrity of SARS”.
Good news all round then?
Not according to the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Julius Malema’s party issued a statement accusing the government of “nepotism” and alleging that Kieswetter is both a relative and “close business associate” of national planning minister Trevor Manuel. The EFF says that Kieswetter left his previous job under a cloud of corruption and says it will “fight tooth and nail to get him booted out of office straight away”.
Manuel responded, threatening legal action if a retraction is not made. He accuses Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, who wrote the statement, of libel and racism regarding the claim that he and Kieswetter are related: “Only a mind warped into destruction by apartheid can ever suggest blood-ties between two individuals classified Coloured by the apartheid regime, when the only connective tissue is racial classification.”
Meanwhile, what about the strike?
Twenty-nine SARS offices were closed on Thursday as strikers massed in front of the revenue body’s headquarters in Pretoria to demand an 11% pay rise, having rejected the 7% offered by SARS management. Two unions are involved: the Public Servants Association and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu). Nehawu’s Mike Shingange said: “We will intensify the strike and hurt the employer where it hurts the most. It is the first time in a decade that employees are on strike.”
Sizwe Pamla, national spokesman for the Congress of South African Trade Unions, told The Africa Report: “The unions have been very patient with the employers since the negotiations began in November 2018, and we support the worker’s decision to ultimately withdraw their labour.” He made the point that living costs are soaring: “Considering the fact that workers are still reeling from the recent electricity tariff hike and are looking at another fuel price hike in the near future, we encourage all workers and their unions to fearlessly fight for decent salary increases.”
SARS says it has contingency plans to mitigate disruptions. Takalani Musekwa, SARS executive for remuneration and benefits, says the “unions and the organisation agreed on an 8% offer in the first of a three-year deal but parties could not agree on the multi-term proposal”. Ironically, Friday, 29 March, is the deadline for South Africans to pay all tax due.
Kieswetter has his work cut out
Speaking on Talk Radio 567, the newly appointed boss said he hopes the strike is resolved soon and that the work of regaining the public’s trust starts with “bringing certainty to the staff – engaging with staff frankly and honestly”. He will start with building up a strong leadership team. “I am under no illusion that its a huge task awaiting us, but […] it is a privilege to do this job in a challenging time in our young democracy,” he said, while paying tribute to Kingon’s work under difficult circumstances.