Moyane's 'devastating' legacy: SARS e-filing at risk of collapse
Modernisation project was dealt a crushing blow when Tom Moyane appointed a global consultancy, says a staffer
The South African Revenue Service’s e-filing system is at risk of collapsing in the next two years, as a direct result of a decision made by suspended commissioner Tom Moyane in 2014.
This is according to SARS acting group executive for IT strategy and architecture Andre Rabie‚ who was testifying at the commission of inquiry into tax administration and governance at the revenue service on Monday.
He told Judge Robert Nugent, who is heading the inquiry, that SARS’s digital infrastructure is unstable following the halting of a modernisation programme at the revenue service four years ago.
The modernisation project was well on track, but was dealt a blow when Moyane, with the help of a global consultancy firm, took office in 2014.
Rabie said an infrastructure collapse was imminent.
Asked what needed to be done to fix the problem, he replied: “First we need to stabilise the technology platform in general. We need a procurement vehicle where people know what they are doing. There are lots of people still in SARS who are just needing to be directed. Many who left SARS are willing to return ... driven by that higher purpose.
“Second, we need to fix the e-filing system. A crash is imminent in 2020.”
He said the SARS modernisation project, which began in 2007, marked the start of the revenue service’s transition from paper to digital in a bid to speed up the rate of tax processing and prevent mistakes. The project ran for seven years and changed the landscape for revenue collection and returns in the country, improving the processing of returns from about 119 days to just seconds.
But shortly after his arrival in 2014, Moyane appointed global consultancy Gartner to assess SARS’s IT system and strategy – which came at a cost of about R200m. Gartner’s assessment, according to witnesses at the inquiry, saw the halting of the modernisation programme and the destabilisation of SARS’s project management units.
The role of Gartner’s report and recommendations in the restructuring of SARS will come under the spotlight at the inquiry this week.
On Monday, testimony from senior executives at the revenue service showed how years of work to modernise processes at SARS was put at risk under Moyane.
Rabie said Gartner, in carrying out their assessment, had only consulted him and his team through assessments and questionnaires, which were “not necessarily detailed”.
“What suddenly started to happen is our support functions started to run autonomously and it was centralised. There was no consideration for the digitised specific requirements. Effectively, infrastructure is far behind ... It’s pointing to the imminent collapse of the digital infrastructure at Sars,” Rabie said.
“One of the things is that modernisation was stopped. In the world of technology if you lose years you typically have to restart.”
Sue Burger, an executive for programme management, said halting the modernisation process may have put R66m worth of projects at risk.
“In the beginning, things were a bit difficult between us and Gartner. It felt like every time they asked us a question, it was not the right answer, it was never the answer they were looking for ... Whilst we’ve merged the project offices and we now are able to entrench a different standard, we have lost some key capability in the project management office,” she said.
“Things in SARS have changed. We are no longer allowed to get too involved in the business case process ... When that newsflash came out (to halt the modernisation programme), it put R66m worth of projects at risk. It was a devastating time; our teams lost a lot of confidence in the leadership.”
The commission is expected to continue on Tuesday with testimonies from SARSexecutives Sello Mtshali and Artwell Kunene.