Sars Inquiry: 'Decision to halt Sars modernisation programme came as shock'

Andre Scheepers, who left the organisation in 2016, has testified at the Nugent Commission of Inquiry in Pretoria on Tuesday.

FILE: Picture: Supplied.

PRETORIA - The former South African Revenue Service (Sars) executive who led the modernisation programme at revenue service has revealed he was not consulted prior to a moratorium being placed on the programme.

Andre Scheepers, who left the organisation in 2016, has testified at the Nugent Commission of Inquiry in Pretoria on Tuesday.

Advocate Frances Hobden asked Scheepers about the moratorium placed on the modernisation process in December 2014.

“Were you consulted or informed before the moratorium was imposed?”

“No,” responded Scheepers.

“Did you know it was coming?” Hobden continued.

“No,” said Scheepers.

Hobden pressed: “(And) what were the reasons as you understood at the time for that moratorium?”

“I did not know, it came as a bit of a shock to us, especially since the organisation programme, up until that point in time, made significant changes to the efficiency of Sars,” Scheepers says.

Scheepers says the restructuring programme at Sars has set the organisation back as opposed to advancing it.

He compiled a forecast which would've required Sars to spend R250 million a year between 2016 and 2019 to maintain its hardware but this has not been done.

He warned of potentially catastrophic consequences if the revenue services computer hardware was not maintained as he had recommended prior to leaving the service in 2016.

“If there were no subsequent refreshes of the technology landscape, you’re sitting with a serious problem. If you didn’t spend that money, then you have a problem and it’s not something you can remediate in a single financial year.”

Hobden confirmed Scheepers’ fears.

“We have affidavits from current Sars employees who confirmed that the major rolling hardware refresh has now continued since 2014 and that ageing infrastructure is a serious concern.”

The commission has not yet heard the reason behind the decision to halt the modernisation programme.

The Nugent Commission also heard how consultancy firm Gartner was paid about R5 million to assess and restructure IT infrastructure.

Scheepers was asked whether it was good value for money.

“Talking to some of my former colleagues, listening to the fact that maintenance cycles were not kept up, that technology infrastructure is going backwards… did it bring value to Sars, halt the progress or caused it to move backwards? It moved it backwards.”

It emerged that the revenue service’s hardware has not had a major upgrade since 2014.

(Edited by Zamangwane Shange)