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Opinion Piece

SA tax crooks looting R100m every day

Versions published in The Star, Cape Argus, the Mercury, Daily News.

28 November 2019 – YUSUF AMBRAMJEE

Abramjee is an anti-crime activist and the head of Tax Justice SA. He is also the vice president of Crime Stoppers International

NEXT week’s tax-filing deadline (December 4) has forced many South Africans to re-examine yet again how we are going to make ends meet.

Despite how hard it is to balance our budgets, the law-abiding among us know it’s only right that we pay what we owe to the state in order to help build a brighter future for us all. Which is why we’re fed up when we think of tax criminals pocketing billions that should be used for the greater good. The crooks have been plundering our country for decades. And because of corruption and greed at the top in recent times, they have been doing it more often, on a bigger scale.

Brazen tax criminals are looting South Africa of more than R100 million every day. They rob income taxes, sales taxes and corporation taxes.

Many have become billionaires by stealing the people’s money and leaving millions to languish in poverty. They divert billions into foreign bank accounts and live like kings and queens in huge houses with 24-hour security to protect them from the citizens they exploit. They do so because they feel they will never be punished.

They steal money that is supposed to be spent on our schools, is earmarked for the care of our old and our vulnerable, that would otherwise build houses and provide dignity and opportunity. They even steal the money that is supposed to pay the police, whose job it is to put them behind bars.

Working in organised gangs, they hijack trucks and rob legitimate businesses, bringing otherwise tax-paying goods into the black economy.

South Africa loses R8 billion a year to the illegal tobacco trade. The problem is so rife that one in every three cigarettes smoked is illegal. The illegal alcohol trade costs R6bn in lost taxes every year and puts the lives of those who drink it into jeopardy. Illegal mining and mineral trading costs almost R18bn, while the smuggling of textiles and clothing cost R6bn in 2014.

Illegal trade has created a multibillion-rand black hole in the state’s coffers, and denies South Africans their right to legitimate jobs.

I have launched Tax Justice South Africa and am calling on everyone to join the fight. The campaign is supported by Makali Lepholisa, the former commissioner for customs in Lesotho, and Andy Mashaile, Interpol Turn Back Crime ambassador, who join me as the directors of Tax Justice South Africa.

TJSA will campaign to ensure tax criminals are caught, prosecuted and put behind bars. Investigations into the black economy and the sentencing of crooks are key. We will campaign for the return of R4bn of the stolen taxes a year, and will call for a proportion of the recovered funds to be ring-fenced for children’s education.

We will strive to expose the extent of the illegal trade. And we will hold our lawmakers, law enforcers and civil servants accountable so that they combat this menace diligently, lawfully and without fear or favour.

Sars officials are working hard to make up lost ground in this battle. But we will remind them of the strong measures that must be taken.

It’s time for Tax Justice. And there will only be tax justice when those who are plundering our rainbow nation are caught, punished and jailed.