Locked-in on Freedom Day: Proposals for Level 4

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

Point of departure

The following is EOSA’s position concerning the lockdown as a measure to combat the spread of the Covid 19 virus:

  • It is false to be locked into the binary notion that it is either about saving lives or about growing the economy. That dichotomy is based on the incorrect assumptions that:
  • economic decline will not have any impact on the well-being of people and that there will be no threat to the wellbeing and livelihoods of people in a contracting and stagnant economy, or
  • a society that is ravaged by a virus that causes overnight the deaths of thousands of entrepreneurs, employers, employees and customers will not have a negative impact on the economy.  
  • EOSA is committed to the guaranteed constitutional right to freedom of movement and choice. The lock-down regulations that nullify these rights are dangerous to more than the lives and dignity of people (think about the abuses by members of the police and the defence force) and the livelihoods of people (the damage to the economy, businesses and the government’s budget deficit). The regulations are in fact dangerous for the well-being of our democracy.
  • A balance should therefore be sought: regulations should promote and protect both lives and livelihoods and all these should be tested against the constitutional guarantees.
  • As and when the constitutional freedoms are impacted upon by regulations (as is currently the case) full disclosure is required so that the premises on which the measures to combat the perceived threat can be evaluated and tested in the court of public opinion.  In addition, parliament and its committees should be seen to be able to exercise oversight on all administrative actions based on decrees issued under the state of disaster.

During full lock-down, the government had not – based on information in the public domain – paid sufficient consideration for the implications of the regulations on the economic well-being of society.  

Proposals for Level 4 (Public sector)

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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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