BUSINESS MAVERICK 168

Taxing times: Adobe Flash’s demise gives SA Revenue Service a big eFiling headache

By Ruan Jooste 25 November 2020

SARS eFiling relies heavily on Flash, which was originally developed for games and animation, making it susceptible to alterations. But many local tax practitioners have voiced concerns about the looming deadline. (Photo: Gallo Images/Jacques Stander)

For several months, Adobe has been warning about the imminent demise of its Flash plugin software and, come December, it will no longer be supported by the US multinational software firm. It’s a big problem for older websites with Flash-dependent content, such as the taxman’s eFiling platform.

Ruan Jooste

First appeared in DM168

Many computers and most mobile devices already can’t accommodate Flash content and many users, including myself, have no interest in installing the once-dominant software.

SARS eFiling relies heavily on Flash, which was originally developed for games and animation, making it susceptible to alterations. But many local tax practitioners have voiced concerns about the looming deadline. The fear is that the death of Flash could crash the whole application, and taxpayers and their advisers will not be able to close off the 2020 tax season, which ends in January 2021.

It also means nobody will be able to follow any digital paper trail of past tax years, which includes online documents such as IRP5s, IT3s, ITA34s.

I raised the matter with SARS and it was happy to provide clarity and certainty to taxpayers on what is now considered a flash in the pan. 

“Of course, some of the technology we are using is gradually being replaced as part of this ongoing effort to modernise our systems. This is the case with Adobe,” the media team said.

“To SARS’s best knowledge, the problem is twofold. Adobe will in fact stop support for its Flash technology, which means there will be no upgrades or solutions provided for issues that arise post-December 2020. Secondly, certain technology companies that provide browser capabilities have decided not to support Adobe Flash on their capabilities post-December 2020, which means any functionality using Adobe Flash will not work if the browser is upgraded to the latest version.”

But SARS says it has anticipated this and is mitigating the risks and ensuring an easy and seamless service for taxpayers to interact with the organisation. It says it has made strides in replacing forms that use Adobe Flash with the latest HTML5 technology.

HTML5 can generally be used as an alternative to Adobe Flash and is considered a better and more secure option.

Both include features for playing audio and video within web pages.

In its replacement project, SARS has given priority to income tax for individuals, companies taxes and tax on trusts. It says pay as you earn (PAYE) is already using forms built on HTML5.

VAT submissions are scheduled to be replaced on 4 December 2020.

SARS points out that more than 1.6 million taxpayers filed returns online using the HTML5-based forms during the online filing season that ended on 16 November 2020 for non-provisional taxpayers.

“With regards to our letters and assessment notices, these do not use Adobe Flash for rendering to the taxpayer, but normal Adobe PDF, which is commonplace technology that is used on a daily basis,” they added.

“It is SARS’s firm understanding that Adobe will continue to support PDF and so will all browsers. Provisional taxpayers who are required to file returns are assured that they can certainly use eFiling and the SARS mobile app, which uses HTML5, until 29 January 2021.”

The tax authority does, however, admit that some forms, which include registration and objection forms, as well as other smaller taxes with lower volumes, will remain on Adobe Flash after December 2020.

“This could cause problems in these low-volume areas should Microsoft also move away sooner than we think. That is why we have been asking people to use two browsers in the interim when interacting with SARS in these low-volume areas, while we try to sort this out,” they say.

In the interim, taxpayers are urged to use the Microsoft Edge browser to submit these forms.

Some glitches will remain in the move from Flash to HTML5, and as with any IT migration, teething problems are sure to emerge. But luckily for South African taxpayers, the former “protect me from yourself” IT head of department will not be in charge of the project.

In October 2019, SARS ended its employment relationship with the suspended executive, Mmamathe Makhekhe-Mokhuane, without pursuing any further action against her. She was suspended after what could only be called a disaster of an interview on Morning Live to explain the reasons behind some of SARS’s failing IT infrastructure. She was unable to do so, including addressing the concerns around Flash’s demise, but her infamous call for “protection against yourself” went viral and became the butt of many jokes.

The former IT head was paid out R1.6-million – six months’ salary – as part of an agreement with the revenue service to make her go away. She had been there for fewer than two years. BM/DM

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  • “ SARS points out that more than 1.6 million taxpayers filed returns online using the HTML5-based forms during the online filing season that ended on 16 November 2020 for non-provisional taxpayers.”. How does one find this HTML5 interface? Apple’s Safari stopped Flash support with the most recent version so I had to use Chrome to do my daughter and mom’s tax return. HTML5 EFiling does not appear to exist for Safari users and SARS had better assume same for Chrome, IE, etc by 31Dec. HKGK!

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