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Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the South African Revenue Service, SARS Headquarters, Pretoria

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Deputy Minister of Finance, Mr David Masondo,
Minister of Public Enterprises, Mr. Pravin Gordhan,
Commissioner of SARS, Prof. Edward Kieswetter,
The Auditor-General of the Republic of South Africa, Ms. Tsakani Maluleke,
Deputy Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, Mr. Kuben Naidoo,
Chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, Mr. Joe Maswanganyi,
Director-General in The Presidency, Ms. Phindile Baleni,
Judge Dennis Davis,
Leadership and staff of the South African Revenue Service,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a privilege for me to address you on the SARS silver jubilee. It marks 25 years of success for one of the state’s finest institutions.

At the dawn of democracy in 1994, we consolidated the apartheid government’s Inland Revenue and Customs department with the Inland Revenue and Customs departments of the former homelands. And so, the South African Revenue Service was born in October 1997.

Since its inception, SARS has provided the democratic government with the financial resources to fulfil the promise of freedom, and to create a better life for all.  

We were fortunate at the time to have had visionary and astute leadership that brought together different capabilities, bureaucratic structures and policies to create this most potent symbol of hope.

We welcome today all those who led SARS in its early days.

Bringing together these varying institutional, political, and socio-economic outlooks characterised by the deep divisions of the past, must have been the most significant challenge you faced at the time. 

I want to express my gratitude to all who provided the necessary leadership to this glorious institution of our democracy.

From its inception, SARS has been guided by a strong philosophical orientation of serving a higher purpose, rather than just collecting rands and cents.  

The institution has always understood that it is at the centre of our efforts to improve the lives of society’s most vulnerable.

Beyond its revenue and compliance mandate, SARS was created to have a transformative impact.

This is thanks to the revenue collected by SARS.

During the COVID-19 pandemic government supported businesses in distress with tax relief measures that were well administered by SARS

These measures were intended to prevent factory closures, job losses and ensure that the livelihoods of workers could be safeguarded.

None of these financial interventions would have been possible were it not for the excellent work of the committed employees at SARS.

Since its formation in 1997, SARS has been able to collect over R18 trillion for government to provide to fund various programs that have supported the lives of South Africans.

When one compares the amount of R1.6 trillion collected by end of March 2022 to the R147 billion SARS collected in 1996/1997, one becomes aware of the enormously impressive work that is done by SARS.

This accomplishment is due to the passion, commitment and focus by the staff of SARS to bring to life the higher purpose I referred to earlier.

In the words of the celebrated newspaper journalist, the late Aggrey Klaaste, the employees of SARS are truly nation builders.

I have said on many occasions that we must do more to improve service delivery to our people, to root out corruption and ensure that our economy recovers.

All these matters are being addressed with urgency and purpose, because our people deserve far better.

To the SARS staff, you are our unsung heroes who have continued to carry out your patriotic tasks during the most difficult of times, such as the global financial crisis of 2007/2008, our country’s economic difficulties, the period of State Capture and the COVID-19 pandemic, amongst others.

South Africa owes you a debt of gratitude - Re a leboga, thank you, dankie, siyabonga.  

We are also grateful for the assistance that SARS received in its formative years from others such as the Swedish tax authority, the Australian and Canadian revenue authorities, and many others.

This assistance helped to accelerate the pace of learning for SARS during that early period.

Unfortunately, none of those lessons could not have prepared SARS to protect itself against well-orchestrated capture by self-serving individuals who were not only unbothered by the higher purpose I spoke about but were in fact hostile to it.

In 2018 I instituted the Commission of Inquiry headed by Judge Nugent to investigate the state of a revenue collector that had deteriorated from a world class institution to one in which taxpayers and the public no longer had any trust.

We saw an unfortunate decline in revenue performance in the years 2014 to 2018.

It became clear to us that this important institution of our democracy had been repurposed to serve the interest of corrupt and politically connected persons.

The most damning finding of the Commission of Inquiry was that there was a massive failure of governance and integrity at SARS, facilitated by the deliberate dismantling of tried and tested organisational arrangements.

I undertook to implement all the recommendations that were made by the Nugent Commission of Inquiry. I know that the Ministry of Finance, the National Treasury and SARS have implemented many of the Commission’s recommendations.

The few that are outstanding will continue to receive the attention of my administration and the relevant institutions.

I wish to thank Judge Nugent, his team, including the Evidence Leaders, for doing an excellent job in providing the recommendations that has assisted Commissioner Kieswetter and his team to restore the integrity of SARS, to improve efficiency and to regain public trust among taxpayers, traders and all stakeholders.

For SARS to deliver optimally on its work, it is critical that all taxpayers and traders comply with their legal obligations.

Over the past few years, SARS has been accessing data locally and across the world to help the organisation to detect and act against non-compliant taxpayers and criminal syndicates.

To those compliant taxpayers who meet their legal obligations, I salute you. It is your compliance that enables SARS to fulfil its mandate of collecting all the revenue that is due.

The path of transformation of SARS to what it is today has been a long journey.

The organisation went through many iterations, remodeling and operational shifts, and will continue to do so as a growing and maturing institution.

From the early days of Siyakha, which transformed SARS from an inwardly focused administrative orientation through the first phase of technology modernisation, we now have a SARS that aspires to be a smart, modern institution that is “beyond reproach, trusted and admired”

SARS is an excellent example of a government entity that is efficient and effective.

The encouraging progress of rebuilding SARS is evidence that it is possible to arrest and rebuild ourselves from the deep damage we suffered during state capture. 

I would like to encourage SARS to continue in this vein, and to inspire other government departments and entities to follow suit.

It is crucial that SARS continues to pursue its mandate without fear, favour or prejudice.

To Commissioner Kieswetter and to the more than 12 500 SARS staff members, I wish to thank you on behalf of all South Africans for your efforts.

We are all proud of this institution that plays such a pivotal role in the life of our nation.

Happy 25th Anniversary to the South African Revenue Service.

I thank you.