The high cost of living, fuelled by rising inflation, significant fuel price increases and a series of interest rate hikes (which are likely set to continue) have left most South Africans feeling defeated and overwhelmed. Today, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana provided some hope during his maiden Budget speech by proposing no significant tax increases to the major revenue-generating categories, such as personal income tax and VAT for the 2022/23 tax year. This signals continuity from his predecessor’s Budget in 2021 and echoes government’s commitment to economic growth.
The Minister delivered a reassuring message to all taxpayers: “Now is not the time to increase taxes and put the recovery at risk. Accordingly, we have decided to keep money in the pockets of South Africans.”
Higher-than-projected revenue performance has offered some breathing room and allowed the Minister to provide R5.2 billion in tax relief. Most of the relief is provided through an adjustment in the personal income tax brackets and rebates and is mainly targeted at individuals in the middle‐income group. In addition, there will be no increase in either the general fuel levy or the Road Accident Fund levy.
Recent Personal Income Tax (“PIT”) collections have come under pressure as a result of high unemployment, retrenchments, salary cuts and emigration; any increase in the PIT rates would therefore further worsen the current position and increase the financial burden on households. Instead, the government remains focused on reprioritising, keeping government expenditure at bay and further bolstering SARS enforcement to improve tax collection, broaden the tax base and improve tax compliance.
During the State of the Nation Address (”SONA”), President Ramaphosa emphasised the important role the private sector plays in growing the economy and provided a commitment to assist businesses to thrive by cutting red tape. It was announced today that the reduction in the corporate income tax rate from 28% to 27%, which was alluded to in last year’s Budget, will take effect with years of assessment ending on or after 31 March 2023. The reduction will be accompanied by base-broadening measures, such as limitations on interest deductions and assessed losses. This is a welcomed amendment and will go a long way to bolster the economy and South Africa’s competitiveness.
While there was no mention of a wealth tax, the focus on high-net-worth individuals remains. The Minister announced that all provisional taxpayers with assets above R50 million will be required to declare specified assets and liabilities at market values in their 2023 tax returns. This will provide SARS with additional information to assist in determining the levels and structure of wealth in our country.
On the expenditure side, recent strong revenue collection, particularly owing to robust corporate income tax collection in December, has afforded Treasury some room to increase welfare spending. The President announced during SONA that the R350 COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress grant would be extended by one year until 1 March 2023, with the Minister setting R44 billion aside. An implementation date for the basic income grant must still be determined, but whether government can afford it on a sustained basis, remains to be seen. Government spending continues to face an uphill battle, specifically in relation to public sector wage negotiations, the structural reform of state-owned enterprises and the country’s mounting debt-servicing cost.
The “success” of this Budget will therefore once again depend on how effective government is in holding the line on expenditure, while paving the path for sustainable economic growth.