Molefe Seeletsa
Digital Journalist
4 minute read
1 Dec 2021
2:08 pm

Public vs private interest: Sars fights to keep Zuma’s tax records secret

Molefe Seeletsa

'The judgment as it currently stands, if left unchallenged, would undermine the sacrosanct principle of the confidentiality of taxpayer information,' says the Sars boss.

Former president Jacob Zuma at the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture in Braamfontein. Picture: Neil McCartney

The South African Revenue Service (Sars) has filed their papers with the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) in a bid to appeal a high court ruling relating to former president Jacob Zuma’s tax records.

Tax records

Sars was ordered by the Pretoria High Court two weeks ago to hand over Zuma’s tax records to investigative media houses, amaBhungane and Financial Mail.

The publications had brought an application to access the former president’s records, after Sars refused their requests for access.

Judge Norman Davis ruled Sars must supply the publications with the tax records for the periods between 2010 and 2018.

Davis also ruled that sections 67 and 69 of the Tax Administration Act and sections 35 and 46 of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) were unconstitutional.

The ConCourt will now have to confirm Davis’ ruling, with Sars signalling its intention to appeal the judgment.

ALSO READ: Sars refuses to give Zuma’s tax records to Mkhwebane

Sars commissioner Edward Kieswetter says the revenue service not only wants to appeal Davis’ ruling, but to also oppose confirmation of the constitutional invalidity of sections of both the PAIA and Tax Act. 

“The judgment as it currently stands, if left unchallenged, would undermine the sacrosanct principle of the confidentiality of taxpayer information, which is the bedrock upon which the work of Sars and other international revenue authorities is based.

“The public can be assured that Sars will defend the principle of confidentiality on behalf of every single taxpayer. Every taxpayer is equal before the law, and we will apply the laws relevant to Sars without fear, favour or prejudice,” Kieswetter said in a statement.

The deadline imposed by Davis for Sars to release Zuma’s tax returns expired on Tuesday.

Context

Weighing in his thoughts on the case, Professor Keith Engel, who is the CEO of the South African Institute of Tax Practitioners, said the high court should have been much clearer with its judgment.

“The difficulty when I’m looking at the judgement is that the judgment isn’t contextualised. We all know it’s about Zuma and we all know the frustrations, but when you read the analysis of the case, they just sort of say well there are points when the public interest outweighs the private interest and in this case we think it outweighs.

“But they don’t really give out a lot of description. So one of the concerns is how far does this go? The court should have been very clear that the reason why there is a public interest [element] is [because] we are talking about public money, but they didn’t do that.

READ MORE: Zuma’s tax records must be handed over to media houses, court rules

“So you’re not sure how far it goes so that may put the judgment in suspicion,” he told Newzroom Afrika during an interview on Wednesday.

Engel seemingly dismissed the suggestion that Sars was trying to protect Zuma.

“The problem is that government has not done anything. You’ll see there was a lawsuit against the NPA [National Prosecuting Authority] today and a complaint against them for not acting fast enough. People are frustrated and want action.

“Now unfortunately, Sars is in a position where they need to rely on the NPA to get this [matter] prosecuted, but they don’t wanna [sic] be revealing taxpayers’ returns to the public so it looks like they are defending Zuma, but they [are] really trying to defend the public overall.”

Background

Financial Mail journalist Warren Thompson and amaBhungane had applied to the court to consider the constitutionality of the confidentiality of taxpayer information.

They requested Zuma’s tax records based on the allegations made by investigative journalist Jaques Pauw in his book, The President’s Keepers, which stated that the 79-year-old was not tax compliant while he was president and did not submit tax returns.

The book also revealed that the upgrades to Zuma’s Nkandla homestead in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) constituted a fringe benefit, as well as that the former president received donations from illicit sources and a salary from a security company.

It further states that Zuma appointed Tom Moyane as the commissioner of Sars to undermine the enforcement capability of the revenue service and to stop it from prosecuting him for the non-payment of taxes.

Additional reporting by Moneyweb