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Court grants media houses access to Jacob Zuma’s tax records

The high court ruled that Sars must supply the Financial Mail and amaBhungane with Zuma’s tax records for the years between 2010 and 2018 within 10 days.

The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday granted the Financial Mail and investigative journalism outfit amaBhungane access to tax records of former president Jacob Zuma.

The court ruled that the SA Revenue Service (Sars) must supply the two publications with Zuma’s tax records for the years between 2010 and 2018 within 10 days.

TimesLIVE is a sister title of the Financial Mail, and both are published by Arena Africa.

In his ruling, Judge Norman Davis said sections of the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2 of 2000 (Paia) and the Tax Administration Act 38 of 2011, which delayed the two applicants in accessing the tax records, were unconstitutional and invalid.

“Mr Zuma has not opposed the application, neither in general nor in respect of the relief aimed at disclosure of his personal tax affairs and has not delivered any affidavit addressing the aforesaid allegations made regarding himself and his tax compliance,” Davis said.

amaBhungane and the Financial Mail filed the application to gain access to Zuma’s tax records in November 2019.

The two groups argued that the legislative scheme does not find the correct constitutional balance between free expression rights and the right to privacy.

They say they are not attacking the principle of taxpayer confidentiality generally but the “ironclad” prohibition, with no exceptions, and which would mean that a Paia request for information would never succeed — even where there is a clear public interest.

Steven Budlender SC said in his written argument that Zuma’s tax records are a good illustration of why taxpayer information should be subject to a “limited exception”.

Budlender said that uncontested evidence has come to light that the former president was not tax compliant and the Nugent commission of inquiry has found that the independence and competence of Sars had been deliberately undermined.

He argued that the public interest override in Paia contains safeguards to ensure that most taxpayer information would still remain confidential: there can only be disclosure where it would reveal evidence of lawbreaking.



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