This blog was co-authored by Felix Le Roux, Candidate Attorney
On 3 October 2023, the Constitutional Court dismissed an appeal by a joint venture oil company in respect of a review application it had brought against SARS. The Court ruled that a further request for reasons by an applicant, after the administrator has provided the reasons for its decision, does not extend the 180-day deadline for instituting PAJA review proceedings.
During 2014, another oil company supplied VAT zero-rated goods to the joint venture for export. The joint venture missed the 90-day deadline from the date of the tax invoices to export the goods to qualify for the VAT zero-rating. The oil company requested an extension of the export deadline from SARS but in the meantime issued revised invoices to the joint venture levying VAT on the 2014 transactions, which the joint venture paid. In anticipation of the extension of the export deadline being granted, the oil company also asked for an extension of the period allowed to apply for a VAT refund.
SARS eventually granted an extension of the export deadline in respect of some of the transactions but refused any extension of the period to apply for a VAT refund. After further representations, SARS stated in a letter dated 6 December 2017 that the joint venture was not entitled to a VAT refund because of its failure to meet the export deadline. This ruling was communicated to the joint venture on the same date. The joint venture and SARS exchanged further correspondence which led to SARS confirming its position in a letter dated 26 March 2018.
On 21 September 2018, the joint venture applied to the High Court for an order reviewing and setting aside the SARS ruling of 6 December 2017. SARS raised a preliminary objection based on section 7(1) of PAJA, which requires review proceedings to be brought within 180 days from the date that the applicant became aware of the reasons for an administrative decision or ought reasonably to have become aware of the reasons. The joint venture argued that it only received the reasons for the ruling on 26 March 2018 and that the application was accordingly instituted on the 179th day after receiving the reasons from SARS.
In dismissing the joint venture’s appeal, the Constitutional Court found that the reasons advanced by SARS in the 6 December 2017 letter were comprehensive, and that they already enabled the joint venture to formulate its review application. The 26 March 2018 letter merely repeated those reasons and the further correspondence between the parties up to 26 March 2018 did not detract from the fact that the reasons for the SARS ruling became known to the joint venture on 6 December 2017. Accordingly, in the absence of a condonation application, the joint venture was non-suited for instituting the review proceedings outside the 180-day period in terms of PAJA.
The judgment illustrates that the 180-day period starts as soon as the applicant becomes aware of the reasons that would form the basis for its review application. The 180-day period does not start only once an applicant is satisfied with the reasons provided, as this would allow a party to extend the 180-day period indefinitely by making further requests for reasons.