At the best of times paying tax is seen as a necessary evil, but when politics is so highly contested – as it is right now – paying tax becomes a highly emotional issue. Locally tax payers are horribly over-burdened and the tsunami of news about government corruption and wasteful expenditure hardly endears those who fill up the state’s coffers to SA’s revenue collection entity.
This is what makes marketing the SARS brand such a massive challenge. Our country’s revenue collections service is among one of the most efficient state departments, but the funds it collects are not being well spent by government which is a major irritation for tax payers.
But City Press editor, Ferial Haffajee, penned the perfect column a couple of weeks ago called ‘Tjatjarag: Sars adverts help soothe nascent taxpayer resentment’, which talked about what a wonderful government organisation SARS is, and how it is even the subject of a Harvard case study.
“The agency is South Africa’s most efficient and innovative, and is always held up as a public-service model,” writes Haffajee. “The effective collection of tax has been a steady story of governance success. Under former tax commissioner Pravin Gordhan, and now under his successor Oupa Magashule, tax compliance has taken the country from a state of high delinquency to one of high compliance.”
If you read a paper called ‘The power of politics: The performance of the South African Revenue Service and some of its implications’, by Laïla Smith of the Centre for Policy Studies, you’ll understand why this is the case. SARS, says Smith, appears to be one of the success stories of post-apartheid government. “In a context in which the failure of the state to elicit citizens’ compliance with public obligations is seen as a central weakness of the new democracy, and in which the efficiency of government is seen by many analysts to be wanting, the statutory tax collecting agency has substantially increased its revenues.”