Adventure going to SARS

THE “adventure” began at 10am, waiting for the bus.

The frequency, at that time of day, is 30 minutes, so I was lucky when the 10.15, new, clean and empty, arrived from NMMU.

I got off in the dank, dark terminus under Market Square. A short walk up the hill to SARS’s office in Chapel Street and I encountered a short queue on the sidewalk. My simple mission was given to a member of staff, who gave me a tiny piece of paper, marked with an X next to “standard general” – there are 10 other options.

On to another member who numbered my “ticket”, entered this upon his i-Pad and warned me that there was a three-hour wait! It was a mere two hours on my previous visit last year.

Aghast, I took a seat among hundreds of other Bayonians. I kept an eye on the screen giving the latest tickets called to the various “consultant” work stations. The PA system was very poor – the numbers called coming over as an unintelligible echo.

After three hours and five minutes my number came up. It took me a few seconds to find counter 18, hidden as it was down at the end of a passage.

As I had taken more than 60 seconds to reach this counter, I had lost my place and had to go back to the waiting area! After another 10 minutes my number came up again – this time a “septuagenarian Usain” Bolted down to my designated destination.

The “consultant” asked me for just two figures, entered them, I signed electronically and he gave me a print-out of my “assessment”. So, I waited more than three hours for a service taking less than three minutes!

Is this SARS’s way of encouraging taxpayers to e-file? In the “old days” SARS sent us the forms and we could fill them in at our leisure, getting help where necessary, but we move on to the “streamlined” digital age!

In saying goodbye to those on “standby”, I learnt they had missed the day’s “cut-off” and had to wait in the hope that the “consultants” finished early, that is before quitting time. If you are tardy and miss your call, as I did, after a third “strike” you are out and have to start again with a new number, your original appearing on the screen “runner” as “abandoned”!

Maybe, if that occurs after the “cut-off time”, you will have to come back another day? What a challenge – get there early and keep a sharp eye for your ticket number, for three hours, while trying to read something!

You will not, especially if hearing-impaired, be able to decipher the voice communication. This is no country for old men. I had noted the “service survey” call centre number on my “ticket” and called it. The ubiquitous automated message calls for one to 10 ratings on SARS’s service, bravely including “waiting time”.

However, there is a 30-second slot for leaving a verbal message/venting one’s spleen. I can imagine what the comments are like. For me, like the time to get to the counter was too short.

-Alan Campbell, Summerstrand, Port Elizabeth

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