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The launch of tax season on Monday was a moment for regret – not at paying one’s dutiful share, but at a striking unevenness in government efficiency and delivery.
The pinnacle department, for patent reasons, has become the SA Revenue Service. No other comes near it in terms of advances and getting the job done. The taxman is reachable in all ways nowadays, even on Facebook, all with a view to citizens paying their dues.
With this unmatched accessibility, the growth in the tax base has been spectacular: when demo-cracy arrived 18 years ago, it was 1.7 million. It is now 13.7 million and counting, including those who fall short of the tax threshold and are exempt.
The increase in revenue has been no less so. Last year, again, and in spite of the global slump, the government’s expectations were exceeded when about 12 million payers contributed R251.6 billion – 33.8 percent of its income.
How nice it would be if there was the same dependability and confidence in other government departments, such as education and health, for instance.
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, our former taxman, was spot on when he said at the launch that the government had to learn to live within its means. It had to ensure it got “best value for our money,” he said.
If it did, or even got close, there would be a lot less pain in paying tax. Gordhan would have less warning to do, and less reminding about penalties for evasion, if citizens knew their taxes were being optimally spent.
But there is no such assurance, far from it. In fact, taxpayers often feel short-changed. With this imbalance comes a dread that the government is, through this non-delivery, inflaming impatience in this country among those who have felt little benefit from democracy.
It is up to President Zuma, Gordhan, new Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and all their cabinet colleagues to fix this.