Self-Compliance at SARS

          The concept of self-compliance can be said to fall within the realm of social psychology.  When someone is influenced to act or to react in a particular way it is often because they were ‘socially’ influenced to do so.  This technique is also referred to as social persuasion.

          SARS (South African Revenue Services) have become experts at using the technique of social persuasion.  They do so through their marketing activities.  Their message is clear: help us (by paying your taxes) to help you (to finance roads, hospitals and the like).

          Of course, you may argue that there is also a… or else (you will be penalised) undertone to the message.  The approach is therefore one of social influence and subtly induced fear.

          It is not difficult to see the fruits of this concept in action when you visit your local SARS branch office during filing season.  Hordes of people line the building corridors, out the front door and even into the street at some centres.  Taxpayers are ready and eager to pay their dues, or simply to finalise their yearly tax affairs.

          It is admirable on the part of SARS to use social coercion to call citizens to duty.  It is equally admirable for South African citizens to react positively to the call of duty.  It is also evidence of a system that works.

          But how does it work for corporate compliance, and in particular, in the realm of Customs affairs?  Well, outside of the usual risk targeting and compliance techniques there is a newer form of social persuasion taking place at SARS Customs.

          It is called the PT (Preferred Trader) accreditation system.  Similar systems are being used the world over.  In the United States it is called C-TPAT (Customs-Trade Partnership against Terrorism) and in the European Union it is called the AEO (Authorised Economic Operator).

          There are a number of reasons why Customs authorities are implementing such systems.  For one, it stems from international trade law developed by the WCO (World Customs Organisation) namely the SAFE (Safe Framework of Standards) and the RKC (Revised Kyoto Convention).  This was originally spurred on by the “9/11” twin tower attacks in the US and the need to enhance global supply chain security.

          While such systems can be classed as a method of persuasion (i.e. getting corporates to act and behave in a certain way), there are more reasons why self-compliance is growing in importance for the Customs client.

          The advent of the new Customs legislation is a primary example.

          What this all means is that self-compliance must become more than just being persuaded to act.  It must be built into every element of your Customs business activities.