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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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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Salary offer to civil servants: stark contrast to leadership in Botswana & the Netherlands

A higher than inflation salary increase for the public sector against the growing mountain of losses recorded in Company tax returns, does not signal an urgency for effective governance and economic stability to change from an environment where crime offers better returns than business. Important players in Government (and the ANC) appear not to grasp decisions and actions have systemic consequences.

SARS CIT assessments

South Africa’s public service salary bill consumes, according to Prof Jannie Rossouw of Wits Business School, about 45% of tax revenue. A 2017 OECD report found South Africa’s public service wage bill exceeded 14% of GDP: substantially higher than the benchmark of OECD and Emerging Market countries.

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Investment ambassadors can try, but SA company losses exceed taxable income

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

Pres Ramaphosa’s announcement that four special ambassadors – including well respected Trevor Manuel – are to roam the globe in an aggressive pursuit of foreign investment  “… like a pack of lions”, appears to be premature. It would have helped these ambassadors if they could have had a better story to tell than one of a business environment with stagnating profitability and growing losses where:

  • only 25% of firms have earned sufficient to be liable for company tax;
  • firms with a taxable income below R10 million decline at a rate of 31 per week;
  • a mere 635 companies are responsible for 77% of company tax;
  • from 2009 to 2015 company losses as submitted to SARS increased by 85% and for the last two years were higher than the taxable income assessed.
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SARS data for tax years 2009 to 2015 (for the latter 95.4% of company tax returns have been assessed) as indicators for the health of the South African enterprise landscape, show the business devastation of the Zuma administration (5 with Motlanthe and 4 with Ramaphosa as deputy). This administration, responsible for mismanaging the macro-environment and overseeing the collapse of the police force and education quality and a rise in crime and corruption, critically damaged the enterprise environment.

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The ‘cigarettes and whisky conundrum’ and the advice of the Red Queen

The Red Queen said to Alice: “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” 1 This advice also seems to hold for the cigarettes and whisky conundrum of South African communities.

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Managing the interface between the formal & informal sectors

Informal traders SBIncreasing the number of micro and informal businesses (in particular survivalists, street vendors, hawkers and spaza shops) is a yard stick by which the progress of the Department of Small Business Development is measured. That is clear from the 2016 report of the Parliamentary Committee on Small Business Development (See https://pmg.org.za/committee-meeting/22352/ ). Whilst supporting the poor is laudable, any strategy that wants to regenerate economic growth has to seriously reconsider this approach. Continue reading “Managing the interface between the formal & informal sectors”