The General Assembly of the Africa Tax Administration Forum (ATAF) held in Gaborone this week has underscored that regulatory constraints and limited internal capacity of African tax collection bodies as key factors that continue to hinder effective and efficient domestic resources and revenue mobilisation through tax by relevant authorities.
The high-profile summit by tax administration officials of African states which convened for the fifth time since inception in 2008 provides an avenue for member countries to share best practices on tax matters and discuss strategies for improving on tax administration in Africa.
When officially opening the forum held under the theme, “Moving Africa beyond Aid through Tax Revenue Mobilisation,” Minister of Finance and Economic Development Kenneth Matambo said Africa’s funding gap for its infrastructural development was estimated into hundreds of billions of United States dollars by International finance institutions such as the African Development Bank and the World Bank.
He observed that historically, Africa has depended on Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to finance its development. “However, for many countries, including Botswana, this source of development financing has declined over the years,” shared Matambo who explained that the decline in ODA has spurred many of the developing countries including in Africa to turn to domestic resources for financing their development needs.
Matambo shared that while governments take the lead in making policy decisions for mobilising domestic tax revenue to finance infrastructural development the responsibility of actually pulling the act together was bestowed upon revenue authorities. “As governments, we are cognisant of some of the challenges that our revenue authorities face in mobilising domestic revenue for development, which range from regulatory constraints to limited internal capacity” he said.
Matambo added that it would bear little fruits for African countries to address some of these challenges within the confines of their individual boarders as they spread to inter boarder’s trade dealing and customs collection operations. “It can be overwhelming, hence, the need for a fora such as the African Tax Administration Forum to brainstorm on these issues,” he added.
At the forum which ran for more than the days revenue authorities with the host Botswana Revenue Service (BURS) leading discussions, shared experiences in the areas of good governance in the running of their organisations, articulation of tax policy reforms, building of internal systems and processes to improve efficiency and effective revenue collection, and in designing training programmes to improve capacity within the revenue authorities.
Late last year the African Tax Administration Forum launched “Toolkit for Transfer Pricing Risk Assessment in the African Mining Industry,” an instrument that seeks to guide African Countries on dealing with issues of illicit financial flows, the achievement was underscored at this year’s meet as a significant milestone considering the challenge faced by the African countries in dealing with multinational organisations.
Just a fortnight ago the Africa Mining Summit held in Gaborone at the very same venue revealed the African was losing over $100 billion to illicit capital and illegal financial flows annually. It was highlighted that building tax administration capacity was needed to help spur development in Africa. Tax revenues account for over a third of GDP in developed economies while contributing far less in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where they correspond to less than a fifth of GDP.
Deliberations at the forum underscored that more tax revenue would not only help the African countries to function and pay for goods and services but would open the way for other market and state reforms that would promote economic, social and environmental development. “Raising tax burdens might seem like an odd proposition to policymakers, but when taxes account for 10 to 15% of GDP, a well-designed increase in tax is exactly what many developing countries need: just as an excessively heavy tax burden might crush activity, an excessively low one can starve an economy of the oxygen it needs to advance,” said Logan Wort, Executive Secretary of African Tax Administration Forum.
Logan Wort noted that institutional arrangements were another issue which can have an impact on the effectiveness of tax administration. He shared that revenue bodies in most African countries follow a relatively unified, semiautonomous model, meaning that they have considerable freedom to interpret tax laws, allocate resources, design internal structures and implement appropriate human resource management strategies. “At the same time, they are responsible for tax, customs and non-tax revenue operations, this can cause some resources stretch and result in gross inefficiencies” he said proposing for further dialogue on tax administration reform.
BOTSWANA ’S PROPOSED TAX ADMINISTRATION REFORM
Like many African countries, the taxation structure in Botswana was basic at the time of its independence in 1966 comprising mainly of the Income Tax department. However, five decades later, the country’s fiscal landscape has transformed, guided by orderly legislative reforms and institutional transformation. Over the past five decades, a number of tax laws were put in place aimed at improving the country’s tax regime.
In addition to the review of the old Income Tax and Customs Act, the Government adopted the Value Added Tax Act of 2002, and Botswana Revenue Service Act of 2003. The latter culminated in the establishment of the Botswana Revenue Service (BURS). As a result of these measures, Botswana is currently financing over 60 percent of its budget from the domestic tax revenue, while the balance comes from the customs duties and other revenues. The contribution of ODA to the budget is less than one percent.
The tax to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio is around 20 percent, which, though lower than in OECD countries, Minister Matambo underscored as very competitive among the Sub-Saharan countries. He explained that despite the relatively high tax to GDP ratio, the Government of Botswana remains concerned about the country’s narrow domestic revenue base, and volatility of the two main sources of mineral revenue and customs receipts.
“In this regard, the Government of Botswana is working on further reforms to improve the tax landscape. These include the development of a new Tax Administration Bill to consolidate the administration of various domestic taxes and improve on their implementation,” Matambo said. “Deliberating on the new proposed bill Matambo said this overarching tax administration law will result in the consequential amendments to other revenue laws such as the Income Tax and the Value Added Tax Acts to synchronise and harmonise them.
Government has made a policy decision on the funding model for BURS, whereby unlike with other state-owned enterprises, which are funded through a grant subvention from Government, BURS has been allowed to retain part of its tax collection in order to fund its operational and development requirements. However, for good governance, the budget of BURS is still subject to the normal approval by the BURS Board and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development.
Matambo observed that the change in the funding model has enabled BURS to address challenges relating to capacity and skills development, as well as funding its infrastructural projects, such as the ICT systems and construction of border posts. “Through the technical assistance from the Forum, my Ministry has developed the Transfer Pricing legislation, which is due to be laid before Parliament next month. The transfer pricing legislation buttresses the message that everyone should pay taxes when they become due, without fail or manipulation,” he said.
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.
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.
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”