Small enterprise: the canary in the coal mine of a toxic business environment

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

Small enterprise in South Africa is unimportant for the Government. Whilst there is lip service to creating conducive conditions for small enterprise, the Government ignores the reality of small formal firms disappearing at an alarming rate. Small enterprise is the canary in the coal mine of a toxic business environment:  they die off first before the toxic conditions are lethal for large businesses.

Big Government favours Big Business (for tax income) or Big Labour (watering its socialist roots to ensure worker class loyalties). Small business cannot fulfil either these roles.  The demise of small formal enterprises in South Africa (as recorded in SARS data) is indicative of an utter indifference by Government to the plight of small enterprise.

That raises two questions:

  • Is the demolition of the small formal enterprise environment a strategy by Government to achieve its objective of radical racial economic transformation?
  • Is it also a strategy to plug a hole in the leaking SARS ship since, from a VAT perspective, businesses with a turnover below R1 million is a drain on Treasury?

Based on SARS data on Value Added Tax (VAT) covering the years 2007/8 to 2017/18 the devastation on micro and small businesses with a turnover of R1 million or less, is evident.  The number of VAT vendors in this bracket declined by 49% from 300 299 in 2007/8 to 154 559 in 2017/18. 

145 740 small enterprises gone…

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SA lost 83 000 companies in the financial & business sector in 10 years

Johannes Wessels@

@johannesEOSA1

The landscape of incorporated South Africa in the financial and business services sector has changed dramatically: in 2007 a total of 222 532 companies in this sector submitted tax returns, but SARS Company Income Tax (CIT) data show by 2016 this figure had shrunk to 139 664: a 37% decline.

The CIT data base records a decline by almost 83 000 incorporated firms.  What happened?

This sector includes banks, money lenders, short term insurance firms and independent brokers, investment advisors, business consulting firms as well as real estate services. Figure 1 shows how the number of firms were relatively stable from 2007 to 2010 before a rapid decline before stabilising again from 2014 onwards.

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Proletarian shopping at the Soweto Maul: Cele’s whistling in the graveyard doesn’t scare off the criminals

SA’s 2018 Crime statistics & the economy (1)

SA is increasingly deteriorating into a combination of the Wild West and a Mafia state with Government incapable of keeping crime in check. Minister Beki Cele admits “the ball was dropped” but remains adamant that “(w)e haven’t reached a state of lawlessness in South Africa and we won’t”.

The South African population begs to differ:  Crime pays… and quite handsomely as well.

Fred Mouton on crime stats

The returns on crime far exceeds returns on long-term investment in blue chip stocks.  South Africans’ trust in and reliance on the police is scarcer than icebergs in tropical oceans.  And inefficient policing doesn’t only kill the economy:  it kills justice as well.

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The folly of creating businesses whilst tolerating a criminal-friendly environment

The South African enterprise world remains in critical condition despite numerous initiatives to cultivate entrepreneurship and new businesses since the real causes undermining its well-being are not addressed.  One of the fundamental causes for a struggling enterprise world is the fact that SA is more criminal-friendly than enterprise friendly.

Mooi River LEGO

We’ve seen that:

Comfortable in this paradigm, Government embarked on an interventionist road to transform the economy in accordance with its perceived reality. It launched a range of black enterprise incubation programs with massive grants, prescriptive procurement strategies, BEE, industry charters, interference with IP and a commitment to even expropriate without compensation.

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SA’s fight against unemployment: The importance of pet food, popcorn & detergents in the quest for growth

On a sunny autumn morning in Bloemfontein I visited a business hand-picked by Government as a National Gazelle: one of the firms Government believes has the potential for massive growth and substantial job creation to attack the three-headed dragon of inequality, unemployment and poverty.

Popcorn & Flat Bread

The National Gazelles Programme is financed (well, by tax-payers) through SEDA (Small Enterprise Development Agency) and the Department for Small Business Development (DSBD). In the first phase 40 firms were identified in “10 priority industry sectors aligned with the National Development Plan and SEDA’s SME strategy”. The recruitment of the next batch is underway. (In enterprise literature, a Gazelle is defined as a company that grows by at least 20% per annum for 4 successive years)

Having covered  the decline in the number of formal businesses and how company losses now exceed taxable company income , as well as Government’s failure to create a business-friendly environment , the focus is now on the positive steps Government has taken to promote private enterprise.

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State Capture disguises the devastation by anti-business policies: Bafana-Bafana fared better than the economy

The anger because of billions lost through corruption and state capture comes at an enormous opportunity cost. The focus on the Zuma-Gupta-axis acts as blinkers that prevent a focus on the massive cost of adhering to failing economic policies and strategies – a cost far greater than the billions swindled away through corruption.

Three figures show clearly that the economic malaise is much deeper than the damage caused by corruption parasites and that the impact of poor policies started long before corruption landed under Government privilege at Waterkloof. Blaming the economic ills of South Africa on State Capture is a massive over-simplification.

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