It’s long been a bone of contention that the Tax Ombud is seen by some as an enforcement arm of SA Revenue Services. That’s not what the Tax Ombud was set up for – nor does it want to be perceived that way. The Office of the Tax Ombud (OTO) was set up as an independent complaints resolution body.

But the perception is understandable given that SARS controls OTO’s finances and pays its salaries. It also controls OTO’s staff, disciplines them and can fire them. They are also subject to SARS’ internal staff policies.

The offices leased by OTO is in SARS’ name. None of this gives the taxpayer any comfort that the Tax Ombud is acting independently of SARS, even though the Tax Administration Act requires the Tax Ombud to “act independently” of SARS.

At a recent Mail & Guardian-hosted event, the question before a pane, of speakers was whether it was time to separate OTO from SARS. More precisely, the question was whether the OTO should be given structural independence from SARS – with the panel in unanimous support of the recommendation.

Here’s what the Tax Ombud’s website promises: The office of the Tax Ombud provides you with a fair and simple way to seek a resolution for a service, procedure or administrative dispute you have already unsuccessfully tried to resolve through SARS. The Office of the Tax Ombud is independent of SARS.  

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