10/03/2017 06:08 GMT | Updated 10/03/2017 07:27 GMT

Is Sars Fiddling With The Numbers?

Sars may be holding back on paying out big refunds, but the taxman strongly denies this.

REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
The Cape Town headquarters of the South African Revenue Service (SARS).

Is the South African Revenue Service (Sars) keeping back tax refunds to make its collection figures look better?

The Mail & Guardian reported on Friday that correspondence seen by the paper indicates that this is so, although Sars says it has been misinterpreted.

According to the paper, correspondence seen includes a directive to auditors all over the country to "delay the raising of tax assessments" which might negatively affect tax collections.

The paper says the directive relates to cases where the assessment exceeds R10 million, and which would make a material difference to Sars's final collection number.

Sars commissioner Tom Moyane will announce how much tax was collected in the last year on March 31. Finance minister Pravin Gordhan announced a R30.4 billion shortfall in tax revenue collection during his Budget speech this year.

However, the Mail & Guardian quoted a senior government source who said the shortfall could be as high as R38 billion.

But Sars spokesperson Sandile Memela strongly denied that Sars was manipulating the numbers.

He told the paper that the correspondence related to the "debt book".

"Sars is not manipulating the debt book. It is important to note that the debt book has no direct impact on collection figures; Sars accounts for collections on a cash basis. Any delay in raising assessments beyond this period would have no impact on the reported collection figure for the current financial year... Sars's debt book has not yet been manipulated through the delay of assessments, as all assessments are accounted for in the debt book," Memela told the paper.