Taxman says confidentially not about individuals but what authorities worldwide regard as essential principle of trust.
Johannesburg – The SA Revenue Service (Sars) is weighing its options after this week’s North Gauteng High Court ruling ordering the taxman to release former president Jacob Zuma’s tax returns to AmaBhungane and Financial Mail.
On Tuesday, Judge Norman Davis set aside Sars’ decision to refuse the AmaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism’s request in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to access Zuma’s individual tax returns for the period between 2010 and 2018 when he was head of state.
Judge Davis also set aside Sars’ refusal decision after AmaBhungane had lodged an internal appeal.
He declared parts of PAIA and the Tax Administration Act (TAA) unconstitutional and invalid to the extent that they preclude access to tax records by a person other than the taxpayer and prohibit access by a requester of such information.
Judge Davis also declared both statutes unconstitutional and invalid insofar as they preclude a requester from further disseminating information obtained as a result of a PAIA request.
Sars commissioner Edward Kieswetter on Thursday said the matter of taxpayer confidentially is not about a particular individual but what tax authorities around the world regard as an essential principle of trust between themselves and the taxpaying public.
”I wish to assure the community that the judgment and Sars options are currently being fully deliberated and considered. Once these deliberations are concluded, a final decision will be made, and I give the assurance that we will engage again once this decision is made,” he said.
Kieswetter said taxpayers need to be assured that Sars will not simply disclose the information they have in good faith, and as required in law, disclosed to the institution.
He also assures taxpayers, traders and tax professionals, that the tax confidentiality provisions, as contained in the relevant legislation remain binding on Sars and all its staff and that any unauthorised disclosure of confidential taxpayer information is still a criminal offence.
AmaBhungane and business publication Financial Mail approached the court after disgraced investigative journalist Jacques Pauw’s book The President’s Keeper was published in 2017.
In the book, Pauw made several explosive allegations about Zuma including that he did not submit his tax returns in the first seven years of his presidency, owed millions of rands for the fringe benefits he received as a result of the R248 million upgrades to his Nkandla homestead and that he received various donations from illicit sources such as tobacco smugglers, Russian oligarchs and the fugitive Gupta family.
Pauw also revealed that Zuma drew a six-figure “salary” as an “employee” of a Durban security company in the first few months of his presidency, which appear to have been subsequently paid back in response to queries.
AmaBhungane and Financial Mail argued that the limitation imposed on their rights to publish matters of the public interest regarding tax offences by public figures should not be absolutely infringed upon by a blanket prohibition.
”The blanket prohibitions of disclosure of taxpayer information contained in section 35 of PAIA and section 69 of the TAA limit the rights access to information provided for in section 32 of the Constitution,” Judge Davis found.
He suspended the declarations of invalidity of the relevant parts of both acts for a period of two years to enable Parliament to correct the relevant defects and referred his orders to the Constitutional Court for confirmation of constitutional invalidity.