PRAVIN GORDHAN found a sneaky way to avoid raising VAT and it isn’t healthy. Promoted as a health tax, the sugar tax quickly snowballed into an all-out tax on anything sweet, including dividends.
The problem with the finance minister’s health claims, is that they don’t hold up to scientific scrutiny, for starters, South Africa is a major fruit producing nation, and in the battle between fast food, sugared drinks and cola’s, the beneficiaries have invariably been the export fruit market and consumers overseas.
Now with a whopping 11% tax on sugared drinks being extended to literally everything, including ‘intrinsic sugars’, read 100% fruit juice, the health alternative is going to be even more out of reach of the poor, as well as pensioners, who are expected to consume what?
And to live off what, five and dime spaza stores?
There is a major and significant difference between the active ingredients in all these products, financial, health or otherwise.
Fructose found in fruit breaks down in your liver and doesn’t provoke an insulin response. Glucose found in cola drinks starts to break down in the stomach and requires the release of insulin into the bloodstream to be metabolized completely. Fruit juice contains plant phenols and antioxidants, while ordinary sugar drinks do not.
Conflating the two, like the conflation of dividends and the banks who dish them out, will prove to be a costly and unhealthy error by the treasury.
For years, the sin taxes authored by treasury have targeted alcohol and alcohol drinkers, driving the beer market at the expense of more refined and hardtack liquor. Now with sugar in its sights, treasury has found a convenient scapegoat. Taken to its logical conclusion, we are likely to see a hit on fresh fruit and the proverbial fruit tree itself, which may feature alongside sweets and chocolates, and milk products, in future budgets.
Talk about taking popsicles out of the hands of children, but this is exactly what Mr Gordhan has achieved this year.
The reason why budget 2017 is hugely problematic, more so than any previous budgets, is because of two vectors:
The first, is the ANC and its ‘tax and spend‘ strategy which has resulted in a budget deficit and resulting need to service debt, the cost of which runs at an enormous R162.4 Bn. According to reports, this burden is not projected to come down any time soon, and can only get worse.
Far from austerity and prudence, the budget is rather shy when it comes to trimming spending. To give you an indication, this interest figure is almost the same amount of money the government spends on healthcare each year, projected to be R187.5 Bn.Then there is the enormous burden placed upon individual taxpayers, who must feel a bit like victims of a hit and run.
Personal income tax in South Africa is currently in an alarming disproportion to income tax generated from corporate taxation. Private taxpayers thus contribute almost 2.5 times as much as corporations, the figure grows to 3.6 times if one adds VAT and even more when one considers the fuel levy.
This trend is global, as more corporations hide behind tax havens, while ordinary citizens increasingly fork out more tax to cover the deficit.
The state will continue feeding SOEs such as ESKOM and SAA in the dirigiste economics that has become the hallmark of the ruling party. Tax on road transport has increased via the fuel levy. On a brighter note, the government intends to roll out new trains and public transport services. One can only remark on the contradiction between the national airline, and the rail agency.
NOTE: At writing this, there was no clarity from the media on whether there is a current exemption for fruit juice or not, and exactly how the new intrinsic sugar regime is being implemented. Health24 reports that fruit juice is included while The Herald reports that the deputy director-general Ismail Momoniat has told journalists that ‘Treasury proposed to introduce a threshold that would make the first 4g of sugar per 100ml beverage exempt from the sugar tax. He said 100% fruit juices and milk products would be exempt.’