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The proposed transfer duty act amendments: what is the impact on the taxpayer, what other options are available?

Among the promises that Honourable Mathambo has made in the past was to amend the Transfer Duty Act to exempt first-time home owners from Transfer Duty. On the 2nd of November 2018 a bill that proposes to amend the Transfer Duty Act was published in the Government Gazette.

ADMINISTRATIVE ISSUES

Among the proposed amendments includes the Transfer Duty collection being moved from the office of the Registrar of Deeds (Registrar) to the Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS). This amendment attempts to optimise tax revenue collection and ensure that the duty is collected by the Revenue Authority. This is a step in the right direction as there has been complaints in the past in relation to levies that are administered by different departments or ministries. BURS should ensure that they have capacity to administer this and that there are measures in place to ensure smooth transition and clients are adequately assisted.

Another administrative issue is the issuance of an exemption certificate to buyers of land where they are involved in a transaction that is exempted from Transfer Duty in terms of the Transfer Duty Act for instance instead of attaching a receipt (indicating proof of payment of the duty to the Commissioner General) to the application for transfer of the immoveable property the exemption certificate shall be attached as indication that the buyer is not subject to payment of the duty. Buyers of immoveable property have encountered difficulties in the past relating to duty exemption on properties that have been subject to Value Added Tax (VAT), especially zero rated transactions, and this provision will now ease transfer of such property.

In efforts to combat the under declaration of property values, a valuation certificate issued by a property valuer registered in accordance with Real Estate Professionals Act is to be submitted to BURS to determine Transfer Duty payable. This is to ensure that buyers do not evade tax by providing the Commissioner General with low values and paying no or less transfer duty.

The Commissioner General will also be empowered to either accept the declaration made by the purchaser or to determine the market value of such property through independent valuers or such information that may be necessary to determine a market value.  The Commissioner General’s declared value may be subject to objection by the taxpayer and the two may settle for an agreed price within the confines of the Transfer Duty Act.

EXEMPTIONS

The exemption list has also been amended to include among others first-time home owners. This exemption though administratively efficient compared to the VAT exemption is inconsequential as the buyers would have still been exempt from transfer duty as they would have paid VAT on purchase of that property. The amendment as it is will only benefit buyers who acquire their immoveable property from individuals/businesses not registered for VAT, which will be an insignificant number of people.

A better alternative to this will be to allow the interest expense from mortgage or secured loans used for building or acquiring homes as a deduction for all first-time home owners when computing their taxable income. This will effectively reduce their income tax payable.
Currently only those in the business of renting out property for accommodation are allowed this as an expense.

It might also be in the interest of BURS and the Deeds Registrar to have a clear definition of first-time home owner and maintain a proper registration system that will ensure that only first-time home owners benefit from this as intended by the Act. Notable inclusions that will be beneficial to buyers is the increase of exempted value from P200, 000 to P500, 000.

This means that for any purchase of property less than P500, 000 a buyer will not be subjected to transfer duty and will only pay duty on the excess of P500, 000 for properties with values of over P500, 000. Divorcees getting property from distribution of their estate where they were married in community of property will also not be subject to Transfer Duty. Exemption of duty for surviving spouses and dependants acquiring property from deceased spouses will now apply across all marriage regimes; currently exemption is only enjoyed by spouses who were married in community of property.

 TAX BASE

Currently sale of tribal land is not subject to Transfer Duty and many have been enjoying the exemption through sale of land in places like Tlokweng and Mmopane. If the bill passes through in parliament, tribal land will also be included among properties that are chargeable to Transfer Duty. This may be among efforts by the government to increase tax revenue base, among other amendments that will increase the tax base is the increase of rate from 5% to 30% for purchase of property by non-citizens. Currently only purchase of agricultural land by non-citizens was subject to 30% duty.

The transfer of shares where the company being sold has significant immoveable property and such transfer will result in change in beneficial ownership of such property; the transaction will be chargeable to Transfer Duty. The Act also seeks to change definition of citizen to include a company with a 100% citizen shareholding instead of just majority shareholding.

Though a welcome development, the provision may not achieve its intended purpose as non-citizens may still benefit from a lower rate of 5% as they may be the ultimate beneficial owners of the company without necessarily being the shareholders of the company. This may be done through the use of quasi equity instruments and contracts that in effect mimic share ownership while no shares are owned.

Therefore it is advisable for the Act to use the phrase beneficial ownership in fact rather than just in appearance (shareholding), this will not only help in achieving the intent of the legislation but will be consistent with provisions of the Income Tax Act where citizens (or residents) of Botswana can only benefit from certain tax concessions if they are the ultimate beneficial owners of the shareholding.

Another amendment of interest is that mere registration of a lease or grant of lease/concession from the Land Board will attract payment of transfer duty; this may be targeting high value lands in the Chobe and Okavango areas reserved for tourism. The provision is less likely to affect individuals granted land for residential purposes as most of their values are likely to be less than P500, 000 exemption amount for citizens.

INTEREST AND PENALTIES

The 12% simple interest will be replaced a by P20, 000 penalty plus additional interest of 1.5% compound interest on unpaid/uncollected duty, this are among efforts by BURS to encourage compliance among acquirers of property.
Tumelo Rannau is Practicing Tax Consultant, he writes on personal capacity
73874566 / HYPERLINK "mailto:rannauot@hotmail.com" h rannauot@hotmail.com

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Botswana on high red alert as AML joins Covid-19 to plague mankind

21st September 2020
Botswana-on-high-alert-as-AML-joins-Covid-19-to-plague-mankind-

This century is always looking at improving new super high speed technology to make life easier. On the other hand, beckoning as an emerging fierce reversal force to equally match or dominate this life enhancing super new tech, comes swift human adversaries which seem to have come to make living on earth even more difficult.

The recent discovery of a pandemic, Covid-19, which moves at a pace of unimaginable and unpredictable proportions; locking people inside homes and barring human interactions with its dreaded death threat, is currently being felt.

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Finance Committee cautions Gov’t against imprudent raising of debt levels

21st September 2020
Finance Committe Chairman: Thapelo Letsholo

Member of Parliament for Kanye North, Thapelo Letsholo has cautioned Government against excessive borrowing and poorly managed debt levels.

He was speaking in  Parliament on Tuesday delivering  Parliament’s Finance Committee report after assessing a  motion that sought to raise Government Bond program ceiling to P30 billion, a big jump from the initial P15 Billion.

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Gov’t Investment Account drying up fast!  

21st September 2020
Dr Matsheka

Government Investment Account (GIA) which forms part of the Pula fund has been significantly drawn down to finance Botswana’s budget deficits since 2008/09 Global financial crises.

The 2009 global economic recession triggered the collapse of financial markets in the United States, sending waves of shock across world economies, eroding business sentiment, and causing financiers of trade to excise heightened caution and hold onto their cash.

The ripple effects of this economic catastrophe were mostly felt by low to middle income resource based economies, amplifying their vulnerability to external shocks. The diamond industry which forms the gist of Botswana’s economic make up collapsed to zero trade levels across the entire value chain.

The Upstream, where Botswana gathers much of its diamond revenue was adversely impacted by muted demand in the Midstream. The situation was exacerbated by zero appetite of polished goods by jewelry manufacturers and retail outlets due to lowered tail end consumer demand.

This resulted in sharp decline of Government revenue, ballooned budget deficits and suspension of some developmental projects. To finance the deficit and some prioritized national development projects, government had to dip into cash balances, foreign reserves and borrow both externally and locally.

Much of drawing was from Government Investment Account as opposed to drawing from foreign reserve component of the Pula Fund; the latter was spared as a fiscal buffer for the worst rainy days.

Consequently this resulted in significant decline in funds held in the Government Investment Account (GIA). The account serves as Government’s main savings depository and fund for national policy objectives.

However as the world emerged from the 2009 recession government revenue graph picked up to pre recession levels before going down again around 2016/17 owing to challenges in the diamond industry.

Due to a number of budget surpluses from 2012/13 financial year the Government Investment Account started expanding back to P30 billion levels before a series of budget deficits in the National Development Plan 11 pushed it back to decline a decline wave.

When the National Development Plan 11 commenced three (3) financial years ago, government announced that the first half of the NDP would run at budget deficits.

This  as explained by Minister of Finance in 2017 would be occasioned by decline in diamond revenue mainly due to government forfeiting some of its dividend from Debswana to fund mine expansion projects.

Cumulatively since 2017/18 to 2019/20 financial year the budget deficit totaled to over P16 billion, of which was financed by both external and domestic borrowing and drawing down from government cash balances. Drawing down from government cash balances meant significant withdrawals from the Government Investment Account.

The Government Investment Account (GIA) was established in accordance with Section 35 of the Bank of Botswana Act Cap. 55:01. The Account represents Government’s share of the Botswana‘s foreign exchange reserves, its investment and management strategies are aligned to the Bank of Botswana’s foreign exchange reserves management and investment guidelines.

Government Investment Account, comprises of Pula denominated deposits at the Bank of Botswana and held in the Pula Fund, which is the long-term investment tranche of the foreign exchange reserves.

In June 2017 while answering a question from Bogolo Kenewendo, the then Minister of Finance & Economic Development Kenneth Mathambo told parliament that as of June 30, 2017, the total assets in the Pula Fund was P56.818 billion, of which the balance in the GIA was P30.832 billion.

Kenewendo was still a back bench specially elected Member of Parliament before ascending to cabinet post in 2018. Last week Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, when presenting a motion to raise government local borrowing ceiling from P15 billion to P30 Billion told parliament that as of December 2019 Government Investment Account amounted to P18.3 billion.

Dr Matsheka further told parliament that prior to financial crisis of 2008/9 the account amounted to P30.5 billion (41 % of GDP) in December of 2008 while as at December 2019 it stood at P18.3 billion (only 9 % of GDP) mirroring a total decline by P11 billion in the entire 11 years.

Back in 2017 Parliament was also told that the Government Investment Account may be drawn-down or added to, in line with actuations in the Government’s expenditure and revenue outturns. “This is intended to provide the Government with appropriate funds to execute its functions and responsibilities effectively and efficiently” said Mathambo, then Minister of Finance.

Acknowledging the need to draw down from GIA no more, current Minister of Finance   Dr Matsheka said “It is under this background that it would be advisable to avoid excessive draw down from this account to preserve it as a financial buffer”

He further cautioned “The danger with substantially reduced financial buffers is that when an economic shock occurs or a disaster descends upon us and adversely affects our economy it becomes very difficult for the country to manage such a shock”

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