SOUTH AFRICA: MY TAKE ON THE 2024 BUDGET SPEECH

By: Prof Dr Daniel N Erasmus

In the recent exposition of the 2024 South African budget by the Minister of Finance, an insightful discourse emerges, reflecting on the fiscal strategy within an electoral milieu. Notably absent were seismic shifts in tax policies, a development likely tempered by the electoral cycle’s inherent caution. Despite anticipations to the contrary, the apex personal income tax rate remains at 45%, a decision that, while ostensibly maintaining the status quo, effectively intensifies the tax burden in real terms. This subtlety arises from the lack of adjustment in tax brackets against the backdrop of inflation, marking a significant departure from recent fiscal practices and underscoring a covert tax augmentation amidst prevailing inflationary pressures.

A pivotal announcement concerns the government’s intent to reallocate approximately R150 billion from the foreign exchange reserves of the South African Reserve Bank. Though aimed at ameliorating fiscal deficits, this manoeuvre prompts contemplation on its implications for the nation’s foreign exchange stability.

Further intrigue is stoked by the impending revision of tax secrecy laws, a move catalyzed by a judicial triumph mandating the disclosure of Jacob Zuma’s tax records. This development heralds a potential paradigm shift in taxpayer confidentiality norms.

My Quick Take

Delving into the technical nuances, the discourse outlines several proposed legislative refinements spanning personal taxation, estate planning, corporate tax, cross-border transactions, and value-added tax. These proposals primarily seek to polish existing statutes rather than introduce radical transformations.

In personal taxation, the absence of inflationary adjustments to tax thresholds subtly elevates the tax liability, a manoeuvre further compounded by the static fuel levy and the continued provision of medical aid credits.

Corporate tax considerations encompass a range of technical adjustments, including clarifications on anti-avoidance measures for trust loans, amendments to retirement fund transfer rules, and modifications to the definition of connected persons in partnerships. These adjustments signify a nuanced recalibration of the tax landscape, with implications for various financial structures and transactions.

The international tax regime is poised for alterations to mitigate the complexities associated with controlled foreign companies, particularly in hyperinflationary contexts. Additional proposals seek to refine the tax treatment of foreign capital gains and dividends alongside adjustments to the tax implications of preference shares and foreign exchange transactions.

The discourse also illuminates proposed legislative changes to foster economic innovation and growth, such as incentivizing local electric vehicle production and extending the learnership tax incentive. These initiatives reflect a strategic orientation towards sustainable development and skill enhancement.

The narrative underscores a commitment to implementing a Global Minimum Tax, aligning with international efforts to curtail tax base erosion and profit shifting. This initiative, anticipated to bolster corporate tax revenues significantly, exemplifies the proactive engagement with global tax reform imperatives.


A BIT MORE DETAIL

PERSONAL INCOME TAX

Regarding personal income tax, the decision not to adjust the income tax brackets for inflation effectively results in a real increase in personal income taxes. This approach signifies a subtle yet significant shift in tax burden amidst the current economic climate.

FUEL LEVY

The fuel levy remains unchanged for the third consecutive year, indicating a steady approach towards fuel taxes and levies despite potential implications for the broader economy.

MEDICAL AID

The continuation of medical aid credits remains unaltered, maintaining the status quo for individuals who benefit from these credits, thus providing a semblance of stability in healthcare financing.

TRANSFER PRICING

The National Treasury’s intent to clarify the interplay between transfer pricing and Section 7C’s anti-avoidance rules concerning loans to foreign trusts signals a move towards greater precision in tax legislation. This clarification aims to address ambiguities in the application of these rules, particularly when the interest rates on loans are aligned with arm’s length principles yet diverge from the official rates stipulated in Section 7C.

RETIREMENT FUNDS

Proposals to amend the regulations governing tax-free transfers between retirement funds for individuals aged 55 and older reflect a more flexible stance, potentially enhancing the tax efficiency of retirement planning.

PARTNERSHIPS

Modifying the connected person rules concerning en commandite partnerships, aiming to apply these rules solely to “qualifying investors” or “disclosed partners,” represents a targeted refinement of partnership taxation. This adjustment could simplify partnership tax compliance while retaining the tax base’s integrity.

VALUE SHIFTING ARRANGEMENTS

The proposed amendment to the definition of “value shifting arrangements” seeks to exclude scenarios where intra-group shifts in value occur without altering the overall value of the parent company. This change is anticipated to streamline the application of value-shifting rules, reducing unnecessary complexities.

CFC RULES

Adjustments to the controlled foreign company (CFC) rules, particularly concerning currency translation in hyper-inflationary contexts, attempt to balance fairness for South African taxpayers with the realities of operating businesses in such environments. The proposal to standardize the exchange rates used for translating the income and taxes of CFCs aims to resolve discrepancies and enhance tax equity.

CGT

The clarification of the 18-month holding period requirement for capital gains tax exemptions on foreign returns of capital seeks to accommodate multi-entity shareholding structures, aligning the rule with practical investment scenarios.

SECTION 6quat

Amendments to the Section 6quat rebate provisions aim to harmonize the treatment of foreign tax credits for capital gains with those for dividends, addressing complexities in the current system and potentially simplifying tax calculations for taxpayers.

PREFERENCE SHARES

The inclusion of preference shares within the “exchange item” definition for foreign exchange gains purposes reflects a broader legislative trend towards treating certain preference shares as debt instruments, thereby closing perceived tax loopholes.

RING-FENCING

Considering ring-fencing foreign exchange losses for entities no longer in operation proposes a pragmatic approach to loss utilization, ensuring that losses can still be offset against future gains despite the cessation of trading activities.

AMALGAMATION TRANSACTIONS

Revisions to the rules on asset transfers under “amalgamation transactions” and the narrowing of the de-grouping charge within intra-group transactions aim to refine the tax treatment of corporate restructurings, promoting clarity and reducing unintended tax consequences.

THIRD-PARTY BACKED SHARES

Expansions in the definitions and exclusions under Section 8EA, particularly concerning third-party-backed shares and the ownership requirements for receiving dividends, indicate an effort to address specific anti-avoidance concerns while accommodating legitimate business arrangements.

CONTRIBUTED TAX CAPITAL FROM FOREIGN CURRENCIES

The consideration of adjustments to the “contributed tax capital” rules and the translation of such capital from foreign currencies reflects ongoing efforts to refine anti-avoidance measures and ensure tax fairness, particularly in cross-border transactions.

ELECTRIC VEHICLE PRODUCTION

Proposals to incentivise local electric vehicle production and extend the learnership tax incentive highlight the government’s commitment to supporting sustainable development and skills enhancement through targeted tax policies.

GLOBAL MINIMUM TAX

Finally, implementing a Global Minimum Tax represents a significant step towards aligning South Africa with international tax reform efforts, aiming to ensure that multinational corporations contribute their fair share to the South African tax base.


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Dr. Erasmus, with his expertise in tax law, can provide valuable guidance on navigating the complexities of EU tax regulations, helping businesses comply with the law while optimizing their tax positions.