Taxpayers plea for curb on wasteful spending

2014-02-17 13:47 - Adriaan Kruger
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Cape Town - Fin24 users reacting to the call for tips for Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan have been mostly positive and most praised the minister for his hard work.

More important is that it seems that SA citizens are happy to pay tax. There was not a single emotional outburst about high tax rates or feelings of ill-will towards the revenue service Sars.  In fact, most people acknowledged that Sars is doing a good job and we received quite a few tips on how Sars can actually catch people who are not paying their dues.

The biggest concern – still expressed with respect and genuine concern from taxpayers – was the question of corruption and wasteful expenditure. More than 60% of responses referred to corruption, unchecked spending by politicians and state officials, unlawful spending and wasting taxpayers money.     

Fin24 user Johan Rothmann posted the following comment, which captured the ideas and general tone of comments we received:  

“Minister Gordhan,

“Thanks for this opportunity. I sincerely hope you do take note of input from ordinary citizens. Your predecessors and you have been doing an excellent job to increase the annual revenue from all tax sources. You have also improved the efficiency of the tax collection system dramatically. Please continue to do so.

“My request to you is on the other side, the spending side of tax money. I do not think it is correct that you and your department work to the best of your ability to collect taxes, only to see how tax money is wasted and abused.

“You and your department have an equal responsibility to ensure spending is fair and in line with budgets and acceptable procedure.

“In any business the finance department will be involved when budgets are established and approved. They will also be involved to monitor and approve spending against the approved budget. Why should government be different?

“When politicians and the media debate and complain about corruptive spending (for example at Nkandla), it is already too late! The spending is done. The spending should have been checked and approved against the budget before it is done.

“That should be your department’s role and responsibility must rest with you.  Questions from the media and politicians can then be directed to the parties who established and approved the budget for that expense.

“Please take up this responsibility and give all South African citizens peace of mind. I wish you all the best!”

A lot of other comments dealt with politicians’ and senior officials’ luxurious cars, high travel expenses, credit cards and hotel bills, with one Fin24 user suggesting a clear-cut solution: “Please put checks and balances in place to curb government corruption and maladministration. Establish your own financial police and police each and every department’s spending on a monthly or quarterly basis. Fire the incompetent financial officers in the departments immediately.”

Luckily the minister has already acted on people’s concerns and the expectation is that he will announce further steps to counter wasteful spending when he announces his budget on February 26.

In his State of the Nation Address, president Jacob Zuma also spoke against corruption (for what it is worth).  “South Africans are united in wanting a corruption-free society,” he said.

He maintains that fighting corruption in the public service is yielding results.  Zuma said  that since the launch of a national hotline where people can report corruption, over 13 000 cases of corruption and maladministration have been referred to government departments for further handling and investigation.

“Government has recovered more than R320m from perpetrators and 1 542 officials were dismissed from the public service, while 204 officials were prosecuted. Government has also decided to establish a central tender board to adjudicate tenders in all spheres of government,” the president said in his speech.

South Africans are already fighting corruption. This week the non-profit organisation Corruption Watch was due to appear in the Constitutional Court again to testify in the tender dispute between AllPay Consolidated Investments and others versus  the South African Social Security Agencu (Sassa) and related parties.

The case was brought before the Constitutional Court by losing bidder AllPay, which disputed the awarding of a R10bn tender by Sassa to Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) for the distribution of social grants.

Corruption Watch, funded by donations from the public, businesses and international donors, appeared in September 2013 as a friend of the court, where it argued that irregularities in the public procurement process may be signs of more extensive corrupt activities.

Previous court judgments have already found that “deviations from fair process may themselves all too often be symptoms of corruption or malfeasance in the process. In other words, an unfair process may betoken a deliberately skewed process”.

Sassa and CPS were ordered to pay AllPay’s costs, including that of three counsel - in the High Court, the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court. The court declined to set aside the tender immediately, as the 15-million beneficiaries of grants may be affected, and ordered the parties to return to court last week to present evidence as to a “just and equitable” solution.

Gordhan has all the backing he could ask for and the hope is that he will announce tough steps to counter the wasting of money.

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