The Faculty of Law at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) concluded Women’s Month with an enlightening public lecture on 31 August 2023, titled “Making Taxpayers Rights Matter.” The distinguished guest speaker, Ms Yanga Mputa, South Africa’s first female Tax Ombud, addressed a packed audience at the Ubuntu Chambers, located on UJ’s Auckland Park Kingsway campus.
In her captivating lecture, Mputa shed light on the history and significance of the Office of the Tax Ombud (OTO), which was established a decade ago. She emphasised that the OTO’s creation was modelled after international best practices, drawing inspiration from institutions in Canada, the UK, and the US. Responding to common misconceptions about the OTO’s independence, Mputa clarified, “The office of the tax ombud is functionally independent of SARS, in that when we make our own decisions, the Minister of Finance and the SARS Commissioner do not interfere.”
She added that while all citizens had the responsibility to stay up to date with their taxes, they do have rights as enshrined in South Africa’s Bill of Rights.
“Taxation is a national obligation, but as citizens, you have rights, which leaders must all respect and protect,” she stated.
As part of her commitment to promoting taxpayer awareness, Mputa announced the launch of the “Making Taxpayers Rights Matter” campaign in August 2023. This initiative aims to educate South Africans about their tax-related rights and the functions of the OTO. Furthermore, Mputa’s office has compiled a comprehensive online resource containing all applicable tax-related rights and obligations, which will be updated regularly to reflect changes in tax legislation.
“The campaign reiterates the OTO’s commitment to improving the South African tax administration system by safeguarding taxpayer rights and promoting compliance,” Mputa declared. “We regard ourselves as a beacon of hope for many taxpayers. We have promised taxpayers that we will protect and promote their rights.”
Highlighting the tangible impact of the OTO’s work, Mputa revealed that their recommendations have resulted in a remarkable 98% implementation rate by the South African Revenue Service (SARS). She stressed the importance of this success, stating, “Even if we have teeth, if SARS does not implement our recommendations, nothing would have happened.”
Professor Puseletso Letete, Vice-Dean of Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Law and a Tax Law lecturer at UJ, explained the significance of inviting the Tax Ombud to deliver the public lecture. She emphasised that it was crucial to encourage women students to pursue careers in tax, particularly given the predominantly male-dominated field of Tax Law. Professor Letete also highlighted the importance of collaboration between the faculty, the Department of Mercantile Law, and the OTO, emphasising its role in enhancing students’ practical understanding of the legal profession.
“Bringing the OTO to show them the synergy between developing tax policy of the country and also implementing the tax administration aspect of tax law is critical, as this will also open further collaboration such as internships and bringing the office to play a critical role in our Law Clinics at UJ,” Professor Letete concluded.
The public lecture by Ms Yanga Mputa not only celebrated Women’s Month but also served as an inspiring testament to the vital role of women in the field of taxation and their contributions to South Africa’s legal landscape.