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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SA enterprise sector critically ill

Johannes Wessels

@johannesEOSA1

The formal South African Enterprise Sector is critically ill. Were the company tax returns of the 768 000 companies combined and submitted as that of a single entity (say SA Amalgamated (Pty) Ltd) there would not have been any Company Income Tax (CIT) payable to SARS for three consecutive tax years.

SARS data on Company Income Tax (CIT) confirms the private sector is in a dismal state. In the tax years 2014 – 2016 assessed joint losses of all companies surpassed joint taxable income by R445 billion.

SARS data on CIT from 2007 to 2016 on assessed CIT returns bring the following to the fore (see Figure 1 below):

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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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From idiom to disaster: the radical transformation of “daar’s ‘n drol in die drinkwater”

The incapacity of Government to fulfil its basic task to effectively protect the rights and property of all persons (natural and juridical) thereby ruining economic growth, is matched by its dedicated neglect of scarce natural resources. In a water-scarce country like South Africa this amounts to much more than an ecological disaster: it borders on economic suicide.

Like people, no single enterprise can thrive without access to reliable water. The situation in South Africa remains far better than in most African countries. However, not every middle-income country can boast its Government has systematically:

Daar's 'n drol in die drinkwater

  • undermined its own water resources by extending (within a mere 12 years from 1999 – 2011) the poor ecological condition of its main rivers by an astounding 500% with some rivers pushed beyond the point of recovery (March 2018 Draft National Water and Sanitation Master Plan);

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Pro-poor LED fails our cities, towns & the poor: Enterprises of the right kind generate city growth

There is an intriguing symbiosis between cities and towns on the one hand and enterprises on the other. As the world population urbanise, so are business activities.

Physicist Geoffrey West in his “Scale:  The Universal Laws of Life, Growth and Death in Organisms, Cities and Companies” says based on city growth one can state precisely what will happen with the number of businesses in that city: a doubling of population does not require a doubling of grocery stores or filling stations, economies of scale kick in in a predictable manner. The reverse is also true.

Geoffrey West & Scale

Unfortunately, South Africa’s economic and enterprise development policies and strategies ignore these predictable realities. In addition, LED plans by municipalities in the main demonstrate a lack of understanding of what drives development.

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