NATIONAL NEWS - Investigative journalism centre amaBhungane and publication Financial Mail have filed papers at the High Court in Pretoria in a bid to access former president Jacob Zuma’s tax records, challenging South Africa’s tax secrecy laws in the process.
Financial Mail wanted Zuma’s tax records, applying to the South African Revenue Service (Sars) under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia).
But Sars said they couldn’t part with them due to secrecy provisions in that same act – Paia – which excludes tax records from information that is considered in the public interest, as well as the Tax Administration Act (TAA), which prohibits Sars from disclosing any taxpayer information to the public, including the media, who also aren’t allowed to report on this information even if they do obtain it.
Financial Mail Editor Rob Rose said in a press release: “We believe the existing legislation to be unconstitutional, as it prevents us from obtaining information on the tax status of senior members of the executive – like former president Jacob Zuma – accused of serious crimes, including being tax delinquent. It restricts our ability to disseminate this vital information to the public.”
Webber Wentzel’s Dario Milo, who is representing the media, said the application would not lead to blanket access to the tax records of the general public, and would only grant access to “senior government officials accused of wrongdoing” and “give journalists the freedom to report on it”.
What Sars will make of the application is unclear, with spokesperson Adrian Lackey unavailable for comment at the time of publication.
Sars commissioner Edward Kieswetter, has, however, been trying to stop Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane from accessing Zuma’s tax records, arguing that Sars officials should be allowed to withhold tax information from the office of the public protector.
If he feels a Chapter 9 institution should not have this access, it is unlikely Sars would argue that the media should.
This after the public protector issued a subpoena in an attempt to to obtain Zuma’s tax information as part of an investigation into a complaint laid by former DA leader Mmusi Maimane – which resulted from claims made in investigative journalist Jacques Pauw’s bestseller The President’s Keepers – into payments the former president is accused of receiving from a security company.
Sars told Business Day at the time that they were aware of how this interdict would look – like they were protecting Zuma. They denied this was the case.
“We are aware of how this may be misconstrued. But it is simply about the Tax Administration Act, that binds us to confidentiality on any taxpayer affairs,” said spokesperson Sandile Memela.
Mkhwebane’s subpoena has stayed after an agreement was reached by both parties. There will now be engagement between the parties and deputy judge president Aubrey Ledwaba to determine whether the public protector can legally access Zuma’s tax records.