This cant be good?

This cant be good?

I know I am banging on a bit about SARS and tax at the moment but it is probably because for me it is the period when we have the most interaction with SARS – not only are we in the throes of the 2010 filing season but the 2011 first provisional tax deadline is also around the corner.

In this context I recently had the misfortune of having to go into the SARS Cape Town branch to take in an application to register a new tax payer for the first time. Why this cant be done online or via email is beyond me but SARS insist on original bank statements and certified copies of identity documents and there is no guarantee that the post will get to them (even registered mail) and so it means a trip to their offices.

Armed with the necesary I stood in the queue to get into the building…once inside I was directed to another queue so that I could hand in the forms and get a stamped copy so that I have proof that the application was indeed submitted (this is a necessary strategy anytime you take in any documents to SARS and we have been “saved” a number of times when we have been able to provide a stamped and dated copy of a document that they claimed never to have received).

I eventually got to the front of the queue to do what was the “right thing” and managed to get my copy stamped by a less than friendly official. During the whole experience I was overwhelmed by two familiar but very unwelcome emotions:

  1. I felt like I was in the headmaster’s office back at school waiting to be punished by the overly strict, mean principle (yet I was sure that I was not in the wrong in any way).
  2. The second emotion was even less welcome and took me back to the dark days of conscription…all of a sudden I was back in infantry school doing basics where my life was not my own but rather in the hands of the state who had the power (and authority) to essentially do with it as they pleased.

Now maybe I am a bit strange and maybe I have issues with SARS but when you are “doing the right thing” and also helping others to “do the right thing” (and when you know the system) and this is the over-riding feeling that comes from dealing and interacting with it, then something must be seriously wrong!

SARS offices are not the friendliest of places and most people that I know would sooner go to the dentist than to SARS…but if SARS is intent on making income tax submissions more simple so that more people can do their own returns either on efiling or by visiting a SARS branch then I suggest that they need some serious lessons in public relations and on how to deal with the public. We are, afterall, their customers and we are the people that ulimately keep them in business. Without us, SARS would not exist so perhaps it is time for a bit of an attitude change by SARS employees to the general public and more importantly, to the people who are trying to do the right thing by getting their tax affairs in order.