I recently had the privilege of attending a tax conference in the Dominican Republic. This involved months of planning in order to ensure a smooth flight, travel and attendance at an international tax event.
Naturally, a few mishaps occurred in the planning process which involved flight changes and adjustments to schedules, but on the whole it was a successful expedition into the biggest commercial island in the Caribbean.
In hindsight, when I look back on the planning, a few major points stick out. The most important of which is the advice given by everyone attending the conference as well as those in the travel industry. Quite simply, don’t drink the water from a tap – stick to bottled water.
Coming from South Africa, where our water is for the most part safe for consumption, this was naturally an adjustment. Of course, additional budget and planning was undertaken in order to ensure that whatever nasty bacterium or ill health effects that would arise from drinking the water, would be avoided.
Thankfully, I made it through the trip without any health defects and made it back to South Africa in one piece. I cannot stress enough how simply planning around the water issue may have saved me a substantial amount of discomfort.
One question comes to mind, after planning that trip down to the letter, with plans to cover all possible issues that may have been encountered. From airport transfers to language translations to an extended check-out time, nothing was left to chance.
Why then, if so much thought goes into travel and the expenditure of hard earned finances, does the same level of planning and attention to detail not have the same presence in one’s taxes? This is not even in reference to international taxes. Locally, the lack of planning by taxpayers has become rife.
Too often, a taxpayer will approach us with a massive tax liability. Whether it be provisional tax payments, or a VAT dispute that has derailed, or even a disagreement in the residency of the taxpayer, it is clear the most common underlying cause of the tax payer’s strife is a lack of planning.
Taxpayers often fall short when it comes to planning their personal tax structuring, or how best to pin SA Revenue Service (Sars) down in a dispute. We have even seen a lack of planning when it comes to document preparation for a VAT refund claim.
Are taxpayers being lax in their approach to taxes? The current slip in tax morality has resulted in taxpayers having to pay over more to Sars. Surely this is not in the best interests of the taxpayer, so why do taxpayers not take more care in planning to avoid excessive payments, penalties and interest?
Thinking back to the Dominican Republic, if the travel planning had not been so extensive, I would have likely followed my usual routine and consumed about as much of the water as I do locally. .
The advice then is quite simple. If you seek and trust a travel agent’s advice when it comes to the consumption of water in a foreign country. Surely when it comes to your taxes, you should be doing the same? When it comes to your taxes, check before you “drink the water”. Engage a tax expert who knows which water is safe to drink.
Christopher Renwick is a senior tax attorney at Tax Consulting SA.