Corporate tax is weak spot for SA revenue

15 November 2015 - 02:00 By MARIAM ISA

South African corporate income tax is flagging compared with the other main revenue streams for the government, suggesting that business will remain unscathed as the National Treasury looks for ways to boost revenues to meet developmental needs in the face of tepid economic growth. Company tax remains the third-largest contributor to tax revenues after personal income tax and VAT , but its relative contribution has fallen from a peak of 26.7% at the start of recession in 2008-09 to just 18.9% in 2014-15, according to figures released by the South African Revenue Service this week .Only 25% of the 652,847 companies assessed reported positive taxable income, while 30% had assessed losses and 45% broke even. Kyle Mandy, PwC's tax policy leader in South Africa, said the breakdown was "concerning" but there could be a variety of reasons for companies having assessed losses. "This should be approached with a degree of caution - it's difficult to know without drilling down to the detail. An assessed loss does not necessarily mean a company is making losses from a commercial perspective," he said.South Africa slipped four places in the World Bank's Doing Business 2016 report, ranking 73rd out of 189 countries, and making it the fourth-highest in Africa after Mauritius, Rwanda and Botswana - which overtook the country last year. Its slow pace of economic reform compared with peers on the continent was cited as the main reason for the outcome.mini_story_image_hleft1As in most other countries, large companies provided the lion's share of corporate income tax in South Africa, as those with taxable income of more thanR200-million provided more than 58% of the tax assessed, even though they only made up 0.2% of the total. South Africa's corporate tax rate stands at 28%, high by global standards.South Africa's tax to GDP rose to 25.7% last year from 24.9% in 2013-14 - the 10th-highest ratio in the world, when social security taxes are excluded. According to PwC, this compared with a world average of 14.5% .The high level of dependency makes it more awkward for the Treasury to come up with new revenue streams to fund its ambitious plans for national health insurance and underfunded universities.Randall Carolissen, SARS group executive for revenue planning, reporting and research, saidtax revenues had proved resilient and relatively robust during the economic downturn, but South Africa should avoid moving forward "recklessly" when considering additional tax hikes.The independent Davis Tax Commission advising the government is looking into the effects of introducing a wealth tax on individual assets, but Mandy said this would be inefficient, difficult and costly to administrate and, in the end, yield relatively little.It would also be a burden on South Africa's relatively small individual tax base, which already pays wealth taxes in the form of estate duties, transfer duties, and higher municipal property rates, he said.story_article_right1According to the SARS report, personal income tax amounted to 35.9% of the total R986.3-billion in tax collected in 2014-15, which was up 9.6% from the previous year. The ratio will climb this year; in the February national budget, personal income tax was raised by one percentage point to 41% for people earning over R181,900.The bulk came from individuals earning more than R500,000 a year, who were liable for nearly 58% of the assessed tax. They amounted to just 9.7% of the 4.9million of taxpayers assessed, but SARS said this ratio was common internationally because of growing inequality.VAT contributed 26.5% of the total tax intake in 2014-15, with 42.3% coming from the financial and business services sector - the economy's biggest. Mining and manufacturing were second with 20.5% and 19.3%, respectively, even though these sectors had been most affected by power constraints.The wholesale and retail trade, catering and accommodation sector accounted for 15.1% of VAT.Tax analysts say raising the VAT rate of 14% - low by international standards - would be the least distortive way of raising revenue for the economy, and a one percentage point increase would generate an estimated R20-billion.

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