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Wealth tax: Game of hide and seek looms, says economist

Apr 25 2017 21:15
Gordon Bell and Mike Cohen, Bloomberg News

Johannesburg - The finance ministry has asked for a study into the introduction of an annual wealth tax as the government seeks to boost the standard of living of the black majority.

The Davis Tax Committee, which makes recommendations to the National Treasury, also requested submissions from the public on the feasibility of a land tax and a national tax on the value of property in addition to existing charges, it said in an emailed statement on Tuesday. It will take comments until May 31 before holding hearings.

READ: Wealth tax for SA? Have your say now

The move comes two months after the government increased the top income tax bracket by 4 percentage points to 45% and as President Jacob Zuma called for “radical economic transformation” in his final year as leader of the ruling party. The African National Congress says the white minority still dominates ownership of the economy more than two decades after the end of apartheid.

“The distribution of wealth in South Africa is highly unequal,” the committee, led by Judge Dennis Davis, said. “It is well established that economic inequality inhibits economic growth and undermines social, economic and political stability.”

Tax shortfall

South Africa currently has estate duty, transfer duty and a donations tax, while capital gains tax is viewed as a tax on income rather than wealth, the committee said. The study was requested by now ex-finance minister Pravin Gordhan, Davis said by text message.

READ: 'Stop plucking the goose that lays the golden taxes'

The Treasury is struggling to meet its revenue targets amid sluggish economic growth. The tax agency fell R30bn ($2.3bn) short of its projection in the past fiscal year, the biggest gap in seven years. The government has pledged to cut the fiscal deficit to 2.6% of gross domestic product in two years from 3.1%.

“The only way we can look at how we can address income inequality is to create more wealth and more jobs,” said Mike Schussler, chief economist at Johannesburg-based research group Economists.co.za.

“In an era where there is competition between tax jurisdictions, they are going to struggle to collect more revenue. People are going to spend more time hiding their wealth.”

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pravin gordhan  |  dennis davis  |  taxes  |  sa economy
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