International Financial Service Centre (IFSC) is one of the most common tax regimes used in the world to promote investment. Botswana, like other countries, also has this regime as one of the incentives available to investors who have interest in doing business in Botswana.
Tax benefits available for IFSC companies in Botswana include a corporate tax rate of 15% (compared to the normal 22%) for dealings with non-residents and no tax on capital gains on shares in an IFSC company. Other tax benefits are in relation to exemption of IFSC companies from the obligation to deduct withholding tax on management and consultancy fees, commercial royalties, interest and dividends paid to non-residents.
All these benefits are geared towards encouraging meaningful investment in the country with the hope of creating employment and diversifying the economy. The IFSC tax regime has recently been amended by the new Income Tax Amendment Act 2018 as it was considered harmful to the Botswana economy.
What was harmful about IFSC?
The ever rising pressure on countries to protect revenue against Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) has led to Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) developing some action steps and a framework on transparency. Action 5 of the OECD BEPS Action steps deals with harmful tax practices and through the Forum on Harmful Tax Practices (FHTP), our IFSC regime was identified among those that may have potentially harmful features.
It should be noted that being potentially harmful means that there are no risks yet identified thus far but in the future, the country may be exposed to tax loss risks if the features that are identified as being potentially harmful are not attended to. Other tax jurisdictions were outright identified as having harmful practices. To address the harmful practices, the Income Tax Act (The Act) was recently amended to remove the, ‘exploitation of intellectual property,’ and, ‘development and supply of computer software for use in the provision of other approved financial operations,’ as approved financial operations.
Further, the IFSC operations have been restricted to those in which the Botswana IFSC trades with its related or associated entities. Effectively, this minimizes the expenses that local entities incur by dealing with non-residents such as management fees, interest and commercial royalties. These repealed operations stated above normally give rise to fees such as royalties and management and consultancy fees and therefore entities supplying these services were exempt from withholding tax on royalties and consultancy fees when paying them to non-residents.
Additionally, such entities could also be provided with loans and have to pay huge interest bills on those loans but still, no tax would be deducted as long as they traded with non-residents. This therefore meant that all these transactions exempted from withholding tax would reduce tax collections for BURS. Additionally, the IFSC entities could claim the expenses paid to non-residents as tax deductions, reducing the tax base, not mentioning that they would also probably be taxed at 15% instead of 22%. The concern of the FHTP is not the benefit arising to local entities from the IFSC regime but the tax losses that the country was experiencing.
Other concerns regarding the IFSC were in relation to ring-fencing of income by only sourcing financing from foreign investors and that would entail local entities having to incur significant interest bills, which could only be taxed in other countries, given that the payments were exempt from tax in Botswana. In simple terms the benefits above only benefited foreign investors and excluded local investors who may have a larger impact on development of the economy.
As mentioned above, the Act has restricted IFSC status to trading between IFSC entities with its associated or related parties only, that is, companies in which the IFSC has at least 20% of the shareholding, as per the Act. The old regime allowed for IFSC companies to trade with third parties outside the country and other IFSC companies.
Effects of the amendment on local economy
The full utilization of the IFSC regime has been a challenge in Botswana especially due to infrastructural issues such as water and electricity and permit issues. Though some developments such as restricting trading to related parties is a welcome development as it is aligned to international practice, the new amendment may result in the country being less competitive compared to countries that we have been competing with such as Seychelles and Mauritius.
This may lead to loss in revenue in terms of directors’ fees, company secretary fees, legal fees, audit fees, and general business expenses to those that provided support services. Income that would otherwise be earned through spending on transport and accommodation by foreign investors visiting the country is also likely to be lost. Though it is always good to get accolades from organizations such as OECD, it is important to consider the country’s needs and strive towards ensuring that unemployment is reduced.
This week Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka approached parliament seeking lawmakers approval of Government’s intention to increase bond program ceiling from the current P15 Billion to P30 billion.
“I stand to request this honorable house to authorize increase in bond issuance program from the current P15 billion to P30 billion,” Dr Matsheka said. He explained that due to the halt in economic growth occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic government had to revisit options for funding the national budget, particularly for the second half of the National Development Plan (NDP) 11.
Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) has this week revealed a gloomy picture of diamond mining newcomer, Lucara, with its stock devaluated and its entire business affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A BSE survey for a period between 1st January to 31st August 2020 — recording the second half of the year, the third quarter of the year and five months of coronavirus in Botswana — shows that the Domestic Company Index (DCI) depreciated by 5.9 percent.
Botswana Diamond PLC, a diamond exploration company trading on both London Stock Exchange Alternative Investment Market (AIM) and Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) on Monday unlocked value from its shares to raise capital for its ongoing exploration works in Botswana and South Africa.
A statement from the company this week reveals that the placing was with existing and new investors to raise £300,000 via the issue of 50,000,000 new ordinary shares at a placing price of 0.6p per Placing Share.
Each Placing Share, according to Botswana Diamond Executives has one warrant attached with the right to subscribe for one new ordinary share at 0.6p per new ordinary share for a period of two years from, 7th September 2020, being the date of the Placing Warrants issue.
In a statement Chairman of Botswana Diamonds, John Teeling explained that the funds raised will be used to fund ongoing exploration activities during the current year in Botswana and South Africa, and to provide additional working capital for the Company.
The company is currently drilling kimberlite M8 on the Marsfontein licence in South Africa and has generated further kimberlite targets which will be drilled on the adjacent Thorny River concession.
In Botswana, the funds will be focused on commercializing the KX36 project following the recent acquisition of Sekaka Diamonds from Petra Diamonds. This will include finalizing a work programme to upgrade the grades and diamond value of the kimberlite pipe as well as investigating innovative mining options.
Drilling is planned for the adjacent Sunland Minerals property and following further assessment of the comprehensive Sekaka database more drilling targets are likely. “This is a very active and exciting time for Botswana Diamonds. We are drilling the very promising M8 kimberlite at Marsfontein and further drilling is likely on targets identified on the adjacent Thorny River ground,” he said.
The company Board Chair further noted, “We have a number of active projects. The recently acquired KX36 diamond resource in the Kalahari offers great potential. While awaiting final approvals from the Botswana authorities some of the funds raised will be used to detail the works we will do to refine grade, size distribution and value per carat.”
In addition BOD said the Placing Shares will rank pari passu with the Company’s existing ordinary shares. Application will be made for the Placing Shares to be admitted to trading on AIM and it is expected that such admission will become effective on or around 23 September 2020.
Last month Botswana Diamond announced that it has entered into agreement with global miner Petra Diamonds to acquire the latter’s exploration assets in Botswana. Key to these assets, housed under Sekaka Diamonds, 100 % subsidiary of Petra is the KX36 Diamond discovery, a high grade ore Kimberlite pipe located in the CKGR, considered Botswana’s next diamond glory after the magnificent Orapa and prolific Jwaneng Mines.
The acquisition entailed two adjacent Prospecting Licences and a diamond processing plant. Sekaka has been Petra’s exploration vehicle in Botswana for year and holds three Prospecting Licenses in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (Kalahari) PL169/2019, PL058/2007 and PL224/2007, which includes the high grade KX36 kimberlite pipe.