Sars’ digital infrastructure now lags behind

19 October 2018 - 10:34 By Amil Umraw
Image: Gallo Images/Foto24/Cornel van Heerden

The commission of inquiry into tax administration and governance at the South African Revenue Service this week heard how a new operating model instituted by now-suspended commissioner Tom Moyane dealt a blow to the organisation’s IT capability.

Senior managers and specialists within Sars’ IT divisions‚ and those responsible for its modernisation programme‚ which ground to a halt after an assessment by global consultancy firm Gartner in 2015‚ described how the revenue collector is now behind with its digital infrastructure.

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.

Shortly after his arrival‚ Moyane appointed Gartner to assess Sars’ IT system and strategy‚ which came at a cost of about R200m. What resulted‚ according to testimonies this week‚ was a paralysis of development in the IT divisions and a lack of strategy implementation.

Acting group executive for IT strategy and architecture Andre Rabie described the situation as “pointing to the imminent collapse of the digital infrastructure at Sars”.

How Sars procured Gartner’s services also came under the spotlight.

The commission previously heard that as a clause of accepting the lucrative contract‚ Gartner had to collaborate with Rangewave as an empowerment partner. Rangewave‚ owned by Moyane’s close friend‚ Patrick Monyeki‚ was said to be on a list of preferred empowerment partners at Sars.

However‚ according to senior procurement specialist Michael Mavuso‚ the list apparently does not exist. Rangewave allegedly pocketed 40 percent of Gartner’s R200m earning.

Mavuso also claimed Gartner did not make the initial shortlist for the contract and that he was instructed by his seniors to approach the American company.

But it was not the impact of the assessment or the way in which Gartner got the contract that captured the attention of South Africans at the inquiry this week.

Instead‚ it was the testimony of Sars’ Digital Information Systems and Technologies chief officer‚ Mmamathe Makhekhe-Mokhuane.

Makhekhe-Mokhuane‚ appointed to the high-paying position by Moyane in 2016‚ became the subject of ridicule on social media after her testimony on Wednesday‚ mostly for her incoherent metaphors and dodging of key questions.

In the overflow room at the inquiry‚ staff at the revenue collector were left in stitches at the IT boss’s testimony. Retired judge Robert Nugent‚ however‚ who heads the commission‚ seemingly became frustrated with Makhekhe-Mokhuane.

On two occasions‚ Makhekhe-Mokhuane asked Nugent for his “protection” from advocate Frances Hobden‚ who was leading the evidence. She also told the commission that it was “beyond a waste of [its] time” questioning her about why‚ according to minutes‚ she only attended four of the 14 operational meetings in her department.

In correcting Hobden on a matter of semantics‚ Makhekhe-Mokhuane also insinuated the advocate was “slow”.

Then came the odd analogies.

Answering questions about a reluctance in the organisation to implement new IT strategies‚ Makhekhe-Mokhuane brought up‚ much to the confusion of the commission‚ the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir.

“The Drakensberg choir was established in 1967 and it's a boys’ choir‚ if I may say that‚” she said.

“What’s the point?” Nugent asked‚ with his eyebrow raised.

“If you're a girl‚ the establishment doesn't allow you to go there. You know... But it's 2018‚ but the Drakensberg will remain as a boys’ choir and they sing quite well. Okay‚ let's not go to the choir if you allow me‚” she continued.

“Sars is or was highly regarded‚ but in my view‚ I think we also became arrogant and they know that I call them imaginary beauty. We have been beautiful. Therefore‚ nobody can tell us anything. So‚ you have to tell them as much as you were beautiful when you were 18 years old‚ now you are 50 years old‚ you are no longer as beautiful as you were 18 years ago.”

According to the Sars website‚ Makhekhe-Mokhuane has “several” Information Technology diplomas and an MBA from the University of North West.

The inquiry will continue on Friday‚ with testimony by acting Sars commissioner Mark Kingon.

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