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Covert intelligence unit within SARS damages public confidence

The establishment of a covert intelligence unit within the South African Revenue Service (SARS) has harmed the public’s confidence in the revenue service, the SARS Advisory Board (SAB) said on Tuesday.

“SARS needs to win back and maintain the trust and respect of all taxpayers in South Africa,” said SAB chair Judge Frank Kroon.

The board was updating the media on progress made since its establishment by Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene in February.

The SAB was requested as a first priority to advise the Minister and SARS Commissioner Tom Moyane on how to deal with the allegations of a secret intelligence unit operating within SARS.

On Tuesday, the SAB said based on the strength of the Sikhakhane report and other reports, it has satisfied itself that a secret unit was established within SARS in 2007, which, among others, had the purpose of covertly collecting intelligence.

The establishment of such a unit was unlawful because SARS does not have the statutory authority to covertly gather intelligence. The application of financial and human resources by SARS had no legal basis and constituted wasteful and fruitless expenditure, the SAB said.

The unit has since been disbanded by Commissioner Moyane.

Kroon said the SAB recommends that the individual members of SARS who erred in the unlawful establishment of the unit should be held to account.

The SAB said disciplinary proceedings against the SARS members, who were suspended following the receipt of the Sikhakhane report, should be finalised as a matter of urgency.

The SAB said the extent of crimes may have been committed pursuant to the establishment of the unit. It recommends that SARS report the matter to the South Africa Police Service with the request that the necessary investigation be accorded priority and any person who may have contravened the law must be speedily brought to book.

The SAB said it had noted that KPMG and an independent senior counsel have been commissioned by SARS to look further into the full details surrounding the establishment of the unit. The investigation is yet to be completed.

The SAB had also noted that the Inspector General of Intelligence has investigated the matter and has made certain findings.

The SAB said that this “unfortunate episode” needs to be worked through so that SARS members and its leadership can focus all their attention on the execution of the organisation’s core mandate.

“In this regard, the SAB has begun to engage the executive leadership of SARS on issues pertaining to optimising the business model that should be in place and the strengthening of its governance practices in general,” said Judge Kroon.

Source: South African Government News Agency