Is it right to pay tax when clean and safe hands are missing at the till?

Johannes Wessels (@johannesEOSA1)

SARS commissioner Edward Kieswetter’s biggest headache is not the gaping R300 billion crater in tax income this financial year or the growing Everest of assessed losses for companies that will impact negatively on CIT for years to come. His biggest problem is how to convince taxpayers to sustain a government that under the pretext of “a better life for all” has served up a toxic mix of corruption, wastage, mismanagement and anti-growth policies.

In addition, the very same government has doggedly pursued a lockdown strategy not underpinned by much logic that could yield any outcome other than a severe economic disaster with long term humanitarian effects. These effects include shortened lifespans, poverty related deaths, and deaths from medical conditions the government deemed non-essential. The toll of this inept strategy will in all likelihood dwarf the real Covid 19 death toll.

Lockdown has mowed down millions of jobs and several hundred thousand businesses. Those that survived have been severely crippled: they have a radically reduced income, have run up losses or have achieved less than half their previous taxable income.

One recalls the words of Saint Augustine, bishop of Hippo Regius in North Africa, whose theology and philosophy influenced ancient as well as modern thought: “Without justice, what are kingdoms but great bands of robbers?

Tax compliance in a lockdown context

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Sin tax to plug the hole in SARS coffer: the government laying the table for a Boston tea party?

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

The prolonged lock-down has been a roaring success: not in enabling the public health system with “sufficient beds, ventilators and staff” for the inevitable “Covid-peak”, but in empowering organised crime syndicates.

Not only did the ban on the transportation and sale of liquor and cigarettes provide an unprecedented window of opportunity for already existing smuggling networks to strengthen their production and supply chain networks, they were wholeheartedly supported by the government to expand their client base exponentially.

The government by decree stopped the legal trade in liquor and cigarettes, effectively providing a protected oligopoly for the smuggling networks. Since there was no competition, they hiked their prices. That saw:

  • cigarette cartons that would cost around R450 before lock-down selling at anything between R1 500 to R2 000;
  • Gordons Gin selling at four times the pre-lockdown price, and
  • A litre red Robertson box-wine fetching R1 400, easily beating some of the prices achieved by top wines at the Nederburg Auction.

Patel hounded Dischem, but the smugglers, spazas & tenderpreneurs were the price hikers

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Enterprises, unlike bears, don’t hibernate: lockdown will cause the death of firms and people

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

Government’s decision for a stringent lockdown has put at least 100,000 formal enterprises – incorporated and sole proprietorships – on death row by effectively freezing the economy. Unlike bears, firms do not hibernate well: without customers and clients buying their goods and services, they starve and die.

Business relief measures by the government and the funds established by the Ruperts, Oppenheimers, Motsepes and others may enable some enterprises to pull through. But a substantial percentage of formal SMEs will not. Not with an economy that is likely to retract by between 6 and 10%.

Enterprises are already in a predicament and have run up more losses than profits since 2014. SARS data shows that the assessed losses exceed the assessed taxable income for the period 2014 to 2018 by R830 billion (Figure 1).

An economy already damaged by anti-growth policies has now been dealt a vicious blow. The damage is systemic and a systemic approach is required to restore a healthy business environment.

Figure 1: The pre-Covid 19 situation of SA firms was dire

The economy doesn’t resemble Eskom’s electricity supply. Load-shedding means no electricity during the power lockdown, but when the switch is thrown on again with the transmission lines conveying electrical current, the lights burn, the fridges cool, the stoves cook and TVs entertain just like before. 

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Ramaphorian air spray no longer conceals the stench of a decaying economy

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s commitment to revitalise the economy reminds one almost of president Zuma’s commitment to combat corruption: spraying air freshener to divert attention from a rotting carcass.

Read instructions on the can for effective application…

The person who promised in his New Dawn manifesto a growth rate of 3% in 2018 through “an unrelenting focus on economic growth” has delivered after 18 months a growth rate of 1.3% in 2018 and negative growth up to date for 2019. Some people would say low growth is still growth, however economic growth below the population growth rate impoverishes the population.

He presides over an economy in worse shape than when he assumed power: one characterised by:

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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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