Loan guarantee scheme overwhelmingly inadequate: cut VAT & CIT to help SMEs

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

The centrepiece of the Ramaphosa government’s recovery and economic resuscitation scheme – the loan guarantee fund – is as helpful as giving a desperately hungry infant a dummy, pretending it is food. Not even 5% of formal registered businesses have applied for funding and by end November about 1.8% of these firms have obtained assistance from the scheme.

It is far more affordable to cut Company Income Tax and to raise the VAT threshold to get the economy growing again, than to continue with the current package of the Economic

Why the low interest in the Loan guarantee fund?

On the one hand the enterprise world was pre-lockdown already coping with difficult conditions due to an unfriendly enterprise environment with a president that is on record that he disagreed “with the view that the most effective and efficient way to provide services to our people is through the private sector.”  Many business owners, especially in the case of SMEs, are reluctant to take on more debt in such circumstances, especially when running also the risk that their properties may be confiscated (expropriation without compensation).

On the other hand, the government, being out of pocket and not keen on disbursing billions that it would lose if the beneficiaries cannot service the loans, had asked the banks to apply their own existing loan assessment criteria when evaluating the applications. Were it a Khula or a SEFA process, the money would long ago have disappeared. So, despite utterances of concern about the low and slow disbursement process, the president cannot be surprised or concerned that the banks are circumspect.

In May already, EOSA had spelt out the devastating impact of lockdown measures on the enterprise world , arguing that the systemic damage caused to the spontaneous order of enterprises can best be ameliorated by a systemic response that would enable the spontaneous order to establish its own patterns again.

The government, however, kept its focus on basically two things:

  • Promoting Covid-19 to the highest pedestal of dangers, wilfully ignoring all other existing problems as well as the additional problems the lockdown strategy would create, and
  • Pursuing its social engineering efforts to reshape the South African economy in particular, and society at large, by limiting state relief measures to businesses complying with BEE (effectively throttling white sole proprietor businesses to death), deciding which kind of businesses are essential and which not, and pursuing anti-tobacco and prohibition agendas by bans on cigarette and alcohol sales.
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Elastoplast for the knocked-out economy

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

Just as a heavy punch on the side of a boxer’s head can disrupt his brain’s neurovascular coupling processes causing him to fall like a log, the lockdown blow had disrupted the intricate flow of funds in the economy. BankServAfrica’s figures for Black Friday confirmed consumers are still on the canvas: turnover declined by a whopping 52% and there was a 30% decline in the number of in-store card transactions.

The pockets of the majority of individuals and a substantial share of businesses now resemble those of the state-owned enterprises.

People are hesitant to spend with unemployment dramatically higher than before lockdown, due to the government turning off the income tap for most enterprises for at least 3 months, declaring them non-essential (in the case of the hospitality sector almost 8 months). The government has thus achieved not only the lengthening of the jobless queues but also driving the rest of the population closer to poverty.

It was a cruel knock-out blow by the government

The religion of the developmental saviour

The subconscious neurovascular coupling process ensures oxygen supply in nano-seconds through blood flow to the brain segments most active at that split second. A boxer can recover from a knock-out if there was no rupture of arteries and quick restoration of normal flow of blood in the brain. If not, there can be permanent brain damage, even death.

Our thought processes depend on continuous uninterrupted subconscious processes. Likewise, an economy depends on the continuous uninterrupted flow of funds that is totally unregulated in the sense that no entity controls or directs the trillions of individual transactions by billions of consumers (both individuals and enterprises) buying their daily requirements and selling their products and services, either worldwide, or at a lower scale in different countries.

The Bleak Friday data indicates the government’s lockdown punch caused chronically reduced demand.

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Ramaphosa’s bold plan (2): weak on detail, strong on flights of fancy

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

Two recent key government speeches gave rise to two important questions:

  • Is the inability of the government to effectively implement its policies & plans (?) worse than its inability to table concrete action plans, underpinned by clear strategies, designs, milestones, budgets and target dates?
  • Why can even Thabo Mbeki see the president is naked whilst organised big business still praises the beauty of his imaginary clothes?

The president’s tabling of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP) was lame and lacked detail, whilst the Minister of Finance’s Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) left one with a feeling there is not much grasp within the collective government on how to prevent SA from slipping rapidly, if not tumbling, down the slope.

Instead of rekindling confidence and inspiration, vague and mixed messages fuelled doubt and a disbelief that the government can prevent SA from boarding the proverbial bus to Argentina (debt default). I put the following three arguments to illustrate this assessment:

  • Will the government stand solidly behind Mboweni’s strategy of freezing public sector wages for three years when they cannot deal with the much easier route to stop financing the effectively bankrupt SAA? Recall also how Pravin Gordhan in 2018 (knowing well that Eskom was not only overstaffed, but the personnel besides overpaid) overruled the Eskom Board and management when they had decided on a zero salary increase as part of addressing the Eskom viability issue.
  • Can one rely (trust would be too much to ask) on the government’s undertaking to reign in public expenditure? This, when they had failed multiple times to table a comprehensive plan on how to deal with Eskom’s debt and the growing debt burdens of other State-owned Enterprises (SOEs).
  • How is the “growth through infrastructure roll-out” approach different from numerous previous attempts – since the days of Thabo Mbeki – to strengthen the country’s economic fibre by infrastructure investments announcements, with the emphasis on announcements?

Flipchart notes or a detailed plan?

The Enterprise Observatory of SA reckons four fundamental problems underpin the ERRP and the MTBPS:

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Ramaphosa’s bold plan (1): Is ‘buying local’ BEE disguised by a face mask?

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

If Ramaphosa’s bold plan to restart the economy was a film, the premiere already proved it’s not an ‘out-of-the-box’ blockbuster that will rake in Oscars for economic growth and sustainable job creation. Growth through state-led infrastructure development XXI is a lame sequel fit for an infamous Razzie award.

Like its predecessor – the lengthy National Development Plan – the Economic Reconstruction & Recovery Plan (ERRP) is a sure box office flop.

The ERRP announced by the president after lengthy consultation processes with big business and big labour states “Non-implementation of the ERRP could lead to loss of economic capacity, including collapse of the supply capacity, consumer and business confidence, the labour market and increased vulnerability of the poor. The overall plan aims to mitigate these risks”.

This script suggests its authors live in a make-believe reality: South Africans, whether tax payers or the growing number of unemployed, know consumer and business confidence and employment are not waiting for collapse through the non-implementation of a plan. It has collapsed already and was meticulously crafted by the very same government now purporting to be capable of getting the economy firing on all cylinders again.

There is a hidden sub-text as well: Covid 19 was the excuse to gain more arbitrary power and programs to recover from the lockdown devastation are aimed at cementing these arbitrary powers.

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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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Business for Ending Lockdown (B4EL) rejects continued state of disaster

Business for Ending Lockdown (B4EL) notes President Ramaphosa’s announcement of a move to lockdown level 2 commencing 17 August. While the further relaxing of restrictions is an improvement compared to remaining at level 3, B4EL will not thank the government for giving back to the people of South Africa that which belongs to them.

B4EL is a campaign to completely end lockdown. The campaign was founded this week (The Enterprise Observatory of SA is one of the founding members). It is supported by several of the most well-known and largest business organisations, already counting almost 60 000 businesses. For more information, see www.endlockdown.co.za.

The president’s announcement only underscores the fact that the lockdown remains unnecessary, arbitrary, and, by the president’s own admission, fraught with corruption.

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