Managers slam global firm’s role in Sars’ IT modernisation programme

Suspended Sars commissioner Tom Moyane.
Suspended Sars commissioner Tom Moyane.

Senior managers in charge of the South African Revenue Service’s information technology (IT) and business relations divisions have described how the resolutions of an assessment by global consultancy firm Gartner were imposed on staff without proper consultation.

Now-suspended commissioner Tom Moyane appointed Gartner to assess Sars’ IT system and strategy – which came at a cost of about R200-million. Gartner’s assessment‚ according to witnesses at the commission of inquiry into tax administration and governance at Sars‚ saw the halting of the modernisation programme and the destabilisation of various units at the institution.

Speaking on Tuesday at the inquiry‚ headed by retired judge Robert Nugent‚ the revenue service’s executive for innovation and strategy‚ Sello Mtshali‚ said what Gartner recommended seemed like a good idea on paper - “but the reality did not support the wish”.

The modernisation project‚ which began in 2007‚ marked the start of the revenue service’s transition from paper to digital in a bid to speed up the rate of tax processing and prevent mistakes. The project ran for seven years and changed the landscape for revenue collection and returns in the country.

“I have no knowledge of anything whatsoever to do with the diagnostic because it was kept top secret. We are in a mess now. Whatever was happening that Gartner found to be wrong then‚ has absolutely no relevance now‚” Mtshali said.

“My impression of crafting a strategy is that if you get an advisory body or external consultant‚ they are helping you to craft a strategy. In this instance‚ it was pretty clear that Gartner was writing the strategy. It became very clear early on that the participation is to some extent ceremonial.”

He said the Gartner strategy took Sars’ business strategy and sought to “manifest” it using IT.

Asked if Gartner’s strategy had been implemented‚ Mthsali answered that it had not.

Sars’ executive for business relations‚ Artwell Kunene‚ who testified after Mtshali on Tuesday‚ said his staff were shocked when the modernisation programme was halted.

“We were all shocked. It meant that whatever plans were in place‚ whatever promises that taxpayers were anticipating to get‚ they were not going to happen. It meant that everything that we have built‚ it was going to regress‚” he said.

“The new structure was not proposed‚ it was given to us.”

The inquiry continues.

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