HOW WE DO WHAT WE DO
Holding government accountable is only possible with sufficient funds to equip three categories; People, Systems and Litigation.
To be effective, OUTA requires the employment of skilled individuals experienced in the areas of research, investigation, legal case-building, project management, communications, donor/member support and leadership.
The challenge against tax abuse is often faced with a strategy of “attrition through lawfare” by a government with unlimited access to taxpayers’ money. This tactic often leads to abandonment of a challenge and is the reason we introduced internal legal case-building capacity – at a substantially lower cost.
The resultant improvement in our ability to challenge poor governance has enabled us to build a sizeable litigation fund reserve to secure senior legal representation in courts of law.
Our approach allows us to question and challenge tax policy, regulatory environment and the conduct of tax expenditure. The sections below provide more detail about these three elements within our methodology.
Governments are generally notorious for finding ways to increase their state revenues. The methodology of improving tax revenues generally takes place in one or more of the following three areas or ways:
- Improved efficiency in collection of existing taxes: i.e. collecting revenue from all who qualify more effectively, ensuring that those who should be paying relevant taxes, are doing so. This is regarded as good practice and effort by tax offices and the South African Government has done a good job in this area over the past two decades.
- Increased rates and tariffs: This is normally fine when attempting to keep pace with inflation or reassessments and realignment of tax brackets to increase or reduce tax pressure in specific sectors or segments of society. This practice can become contentious and problematic when the annual increases over time amount to an excessive charge, which begins to drive negative behaviour and a backlash or other action by society to circumvent the excessive charges. A good example of this has been the ongoing and excessive increase of vehicle license charges, specifically to the trucking industry, as well as the fuel levy, which has increased by over 140% over the past decade.
- Introduction of New Taxes and Tax Policies: This happens when government generates new and additional revenue streams to provide additional revenue to Treasury’s “tax pot”. This is done to either change society’s behaviour (eg: the Carbon Emissions Tax on New Vehicle Sales) or to simply increase the taxes on society in specific areas.
OUTA’s work in the area of tax policy evaluation seeks to ensure that rational and meaningful introduction of taxes takes place and that society does not become overburdened or negatively affected by some of the above, specifically in (ii) and (iii) above.
It is important that when introducing new or managing existing taxes, the regulatory environment is both efficient and is effectively applied. Government (at various levels) will suffer from a crisis of legitimacy if they introduce taxes which they are unable to enforce, collect or manage.
When this happens and/or when the public questions the rationale of a specific tax and stop paying it, the inability to enforce the non-payment thereof will eventually render that tax irrelevant.
Examples of such irrelevant taxes are traffic fines (which have essentially become a tax/revenue at local government level), TV licenses, e-tolls and others.
Conduct is the most active area of our work, being that of addressing the maladministration, waste and corrupt use of state revenues and expenditure. We have a methodology as indicated below – to address our work and effort around unacceptable conduct.
STEP 1. RESEARCH AND INVESTIGATE
By conducting meaningful and thorough research, OUTA sets out to ensure that the issue raised or presented for our attention, is one that is real, significant and relevant.
STEP 2. ENGAGING THE POWERS
The engagement process provides an opportunity for those implicated in the issue, to respond, explain, rationalise and/or rectify the situation.
STEP 3. EXPOSING THE POWERS
Once engagement has taken place and has been exhausted, and if we believe the situation/issue remains serious enough, we will then set out to expose the matter, along with the people implicated to the public, media and the authorities. This process is undertaken in the hope that greater exposure may lead to a rectification of the situation/behaviour.
STEP 4. MOBILISATION
Should our work in ‘exposing the powers’ not have the desired effect, we begin to use all avenues open to us through mobilising and other activities to highlight the issue or problem, once again seeking a situation of sufficient discomfort to the perpetrators to discontinue with the unacceptable behaviour and conduct. This may be through various forms of communication, protest, marches, Etc.
STEP 5. LITIGATION
When the unacceptable behaviour or situation persists after having pursued the above steps, we begin the process of using the laws of the land and our constitution to correct the matter through various avenues of litigation, mediation and arbitration available to society.