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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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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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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Lockdown? Or is it perhaps meltdown?

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

Halfway into a five-week lockdown it is appropriate to compile a kind of “balance sheet”. When the lockdown was announced, Pres Ramaphosa made it clear that protecting lives against Covid 19 was paramount: a position he reiterated when prolonging the lockdown.

For the ANC Government, all other considerations weigh less and may be sacrificed. Mutating from a supreme commander in military camouflage uniform rallying his troops to “kill the virus” to a pope like appearance during Easter sympathizing with the population for carrying the heavy cross, almost like Simon of Cyrene, Ramaphosa has been lauded all around as “bold” and “presidential”. The few voices that since the beginning have argued that severe restrictions that limit fundamental freedoms would fuel poverty and unemployment, were brushed aside as being both inhumane and wrong.

To date it is uncertain whether the lockdown, the wide application of Bacillus Calmette–Guérin vaccine in SA or any ther factor has contributed to the (still) low infection rate in South Africa. What is dead certain is that the economy (already in a critical condition prior to the appearance of Covid 19) has been rushed into ICU to a position close to the door where the dead are wheeled out to the morgue.

Read EOSA’s proposals on how Government can assist SMEs by cutting CIT and exempting those with a turnover below R2.5 million from VAT.

Government has, as yet, to indicate its estimates of the economic impact of the lockdown measures, e.g.:

  • the decline in VAT receipts;
  • the decline in CIT (and for sole proprietors, the decline in personal income tax);
  • the additional costs of demands on the UIF;
  • the additional costs of deploying the military and the police at the current levels;
  • the cost of measures to support the informal traders, small enterprises and other assistance measures to support businesses;
  • the support measures to assist businesses in the hospitality industry;
  • how these would impact on the budget deficit and what the implications are for government debt.
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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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