by Amanda Visser
The sudden withdrawal of the controversial Green Paper on Comprehensive Social Security and Retirement Reform (state pension) is typical ANC tactics, says Magnus Heystek, director of Brenthurst Wealth Management.
It is good at sending up smoke signals from ANC related people or institutions to see what the response to their proposal is. “Once they see the reaction they adjust the strategy,” he says.
Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu withdrew the green paper after a massive pushback by taxpayers and several other stakeholders, without offering any reasons.
The green paper proposed a contribution of between 8% and 12% to a state-controlled pension fund. This would have been deducted from employees’ remuneration. Another tax of 10 percentage points would have been levied to increase the basic income grant.
Dirk Hermann, CEO of Solidarity, says the green paper was “absurd, irrational, unworkable and unconstitutional”. The withdrawal is a victory for taxpayers who pushed back.
Solidarity earlier embarked on legal action against the minister and gave her 30 days to withdraw the document since due process was not followed.
“Solidarity will continue with its resistance and legal action against the green paper should it resurface in another form at a later stage,” warns Hermann.
Rotten to the core
Heystek says these “smoke signals”, similar to the land reform changes, create a lot of uncertainty. The industry is going to battle to convince people to invest their savings in retirement products.
“People will argue that they are not prepared to save a cent into a fund in which they may be locked into for a long time over which they do not have any control.”
Hermann says the green paper was rotten to the core. “It is deeply concerning that such an irrational green paper is published as part of the legislative process. It creates policy uncertainty amongst employees, businesses and investors,” he says.
Keith Engel, CEO of the South African Institute of Taxation, says that the withdrawal comes as a great relief. Workers and businesses are simply at their breaking point, regardless of the cause. A 10-12% tax increase may place many individuals over the 50% marginal rate line.
Business would eventually be pushed to raise wages to cover the difference. There is a growing mistrust of pensions given all the regulatory tightening adopted and proposed. “Many are now questioning whether they should invest in pensions at all. This is despite the tax advantages for retirement savings out of fear that government policy hounds are increasingly looking at the size of these funds as a source of government revenue. Proposals like these do not help,” says Engel.
Heystek says such a state-controlled fund will work in countries like Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. These countries are significantly richer per capita than SA, they have very low levels of unemployment, have great respect for law and order and considers it almost unthinkable to break any rules. “Everyone contributes and everyone benefits from it. There is no tolerance for fraud or theft.”
Heystek says in SA almost every state-owned entity, government fund and municipality is bankrupt. “There is no example where a government-controlled fund is being managed well. Even the Public Investment Corporation, which administers the Government Employment Pension Fund, is shrouded in obscurity.”
He says given the current circumstances in the country the retirement industry is the last thing that government should be messing with. It should rather focus on economic growth and job creation.
A good place to start is to get rid of the minimum wage which has led to more unemployment, depriving people of the opportunity to become part of the economy.
Reconsider financial situation
Heystek says if a state-controlled pension fund is ever introduced in SA, there is a real danger that the shadow economy (underground economy or cheating economy), where people operate entirely outside the tax and regulatory system or they do not correctly report their tax obligations, will grow.
According to Heystek around 60% of the contributions for insurance is for retirement savings. The retirement savings industry has always been a pocket of excellence in the economy.
“It is a massive industry, and it is highly regarded. It is one of the biggest local industries offering employment to more than 200 000 people.”
He suggests that people take a closer look at their own financial circumstances. People should invest where they have total control over their asset allocation. If there is additional money left they should build up a foreign nest egg to limit their exposure to SA and its unique problems. “Many people are asset rich and cash poor. They have several properties but the returns on those investments have been very poor.”
Heystek says it may be time to get rid of it because things are not going to get better.