As part of the push to clamp down on Covid-19 related corruption, the South African Revenue Services (Sars) is fast-tracking the recovery of revenue owed in connection with personal protective equipment (PPE) tenders – and so far it’s picked up on at least 17 awards in which “politically exposed persons” were involved.
This was revealed on Friday, at a briefing before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) from the inter-ministerial committee established earlier this month to assist with investigations into Covid-19 related corruption.
During the presentation, the Justice Department’s acting director-general, Kalayvani Pillay, said Sars had launched “a national revenue recovery project to fast track the recovery of revenue in respect of taxpayers who were awarded PPE tenders”.
“Where tax criminality is identified the matter is investigated and then referred to the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI),” she said – adding the project had “a multi-disciplinary focus”.
Sars Commissioner Edward Kieswetter, who also addressed the Scopa, revealed 139 companies had been identified “for potential tax evasion investigation”.
Of the 17 tender awards involving “politically exposed persons” identified, Kieswetter said they were valued at R1.2 billion – 60% of the total R2 billion’s worth currently under investigation.
He said when it came to the form non-compliance took, there were “all kinds of shenanigans”.
“They are not declaring income from PPE – even though they get that from government, they still choose to cheat government; they have outstanding tax returns; they file fraudulent or incorrect returns; they obtain tax clearance certificates by fiddling with the system and they are not registered for VAT,” he said.
He said there were three companies “currently under investigation” which had received SAPS contracts totalling R165 million.
“One is owned by a 30-year-old who has received a contract worth R125 million,” he said.
He also said Sars had discovered a number of the companies which had been awarded tenders to provide PPE were in fact originally registered in completely different sectors.
“We found pubs, IT companies, car washes, property letting companies, bakeries and event management companies,” he said, “All of which were successful notwithstanding their experience”.
Pillay on Friday highlighted that Sars required additional resources in order to “deliver against the workload of Covid-19 related tax evasion” and Kieswetter reiterated this.
“These are not just resources for this issue. They will strengthen the overall capability of Sars,” he said. “Unless we significantly boost resources – specifically in areas of technology and investigations – then we are fighting a losing battle.”