Sars' digital infrastructure on 'verge of collapse'‚ inquiry hears

Retired Supreme Court of Appeals Judge Robert Nugent is heading the Sars inquiry.
Retired Supreme Court of Appeals Judge Robert Nugent is heading the Sars inquiry.
Image: Simphiwe Nkwali / Sunday Times

The digital infrastructure at the South African Revenue Service (Sars) may be on a verge of collapse following the halting of a modernisation programme at the revenue service four years ago.

This was 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.

According to Rabie‚ the revenue service was “far behind” in updating its digital infrastructure after now-suspended commissioner Tom Moyane carried out his new operating model‚ which saw the total overhaul of various structures at Sars‚ including information technology. Rabie said an almost decade-long programme to modernise the revenue service was brought to a halt when Moyane took over.

Rabie‚ who joined Sars midway into the modernisation programme in 2011‚ said by the time Moyane started as commissioner in 2014‚ Sars had created a digital “platform on which to build on”.

“We understood that we needed to take Sars to the next level and it was basically to modernise processes and procedures. It was very well understood that if you make it as easy as possible for people to comply‚ they probably would. We already created a platform to build on. And the trajectory was basically to continue improving on that. We understood what needed to be done next‚” Rabie said.

Shortly after his arrival‚ Moyane appointed global consultancy Gartner to assess Sars’ IT system and strategy – which came at a cost of about R200m. The role of Gartner’s report and recommendations in the restructuring of Sars will this week come under the spotlight at the inquiry.

“The modernisation programme was suddenly stopped. The reason cited was there was a requirement to review the structure and the IT landscape. We got word of this via a corporate communication and we basically stopped the process. There was basically no change control. It was a shock and it was not great for the moral‚” Rabie said.

He 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.”

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