THE Tax Administration Act was expected to come into operation within the next three months after being promulgated into law on Wednesday.

The South African Revenue Services (SARS) said its preparations for the implementation of the act were at "an advanced stage" despite previous concerns by tax experts over the readiness to implement all the provisions in the act at once.

The new legislation puts wide-ranging powers in the hands of senior officials at SARS - including the right to enter a taxpayer's premises without a warrant in certain circumstances and to search and seize documents.

It also provides for the appointment of a t ax o mbud's o ffice to balance these powers with the rights of taxpayers.

SARS clarified the circumstances under which a warrantless search would be permitted, saying a senior official must be satisfied that there might be "an imminent removal or destruction of relevant material" and that in such instances a delay in obtaining a warrant would defeat the object of the search and seizure. The act also stipulates that a warrantless search should be carried out in the same manner and subject to the same statutory limitations as a search with a warrant, and that no official might enter a private home.

SARS spokesman Adrian Lackay said most taxpayers were compliant and the act would ensure better service and a lower compliance cost. "SARS is, however, duty bound to actively pursue tax evaders in order to maintain compliant taxpayers' confidence in the integrity of the tax system," he said.

Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs tax executive Beric Croome said the enactment of the bill was a step in the right direction, but still did not foresee all the sections of the act coming into effect at once.

One section that many people who did not make use of the voluntary disclosure programme last year would wish to come into effect first, was the permanent voluntary programme in the act, Mr Croome said. He said the act would require significant system changes from SARS, referring to the provisions allowing for taxpayers to be informed on the status of an audit.

SARS said a key objective of the act was to achieve a balance between the authority's powers and duties, on the one hand, and taxpayer obligations and rights on the other.

Mr Lackay said although the act provided for the appointment of the tax ombud within a year of its commencement, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced in his February budget that the appointment would be made this year.

Meanwhile, the Treasury yesterday also published the Taxation Laws Amendment Bills for comment. These bills give effect to most of the 2012 budget review tax proposals.

vissera@bdfm.co.za