Wealth tax debate reignites as BURS targets P48bn

Aiming higher: The BURS is tightening its tax collections PIC: MORERI SEJAKGOMO
Aiming higher: The BURS is tightening its tax collections PIC: MORERI SEJAKGOMO

The Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) is expected to rake in P47.5 billion in various taxes in the 2022-2023 financial year, a revelation that comes as legislators call for authorities to shift the tax burden from low-income Batswana to the wealthy.

The tax target for the upcoming financial year is compared to the P42 billion the BURS was charged with collecting in the 2021-2022 financial year. By December, the tax agency had raked in P38.5 billion, setting it on course to reach the target.

Finance ministry documents indicate that of the total taxes due in the upcoming financial year, P8.5 billion are classified as assessed income taxes, which include the taxes filed by individuals and companies through tax returns. Value Added Tax is expected to increase to P11.2 billion in the upcoming financial year, compared to P10.8 billion in 2021-2022.

The latest estimates come as the pandemic-induced stress on households has resurrected a debate on whether the wealthy are paying their fair share of tax in the country. In January, a report by World Inequality Lab indicated that the richest one percent of people in the country earned more than 20 times the average income of the rest of Batswana in 2021.

According to the report, the top one percent wealthiest in the country earned at least P142,601 per month in 2021 before tax, while Statistics Botswana’s last report on incomes indicated that formal sector workers earned an average of P6,014.

Income tax rates in the country start at five percent for those earning P4,001 per month. The maximum tax rate is 25% and starts with anyone earning more than P13,000 meaning even those in the one percent of the country’s wealthiest are paying the same rate.

“We should look at our tax rates, especially for those who are less privileged to make sure that those at the top who can afford, are paying more and contributing more,” Bobonong legislator, Taolo Lucas said in Parliament this week. “In other countries, those who are rich pay more taxes and we should be looking at the upper tax rate because we could have more money if we target them.”

Selebi-Phikwe West legislator, Dithapelo Keorapetse previously called on fiscal authorities to introduce a wealth tax, which he said would ease the country’s income inequality and also increase inflows to government.

“Apart from addressing inequalities, wealth tax can add to economic growth, encourage investment, for example, by coercing the productive use of assets and can have other positive social effects,” he said.

A tax expert who spoke to BusinessWeek said while the country’s rates were often hailed as among the lowest in the region, the tax brackets employed did not fairly distribute the burden.

“It does not appear fair that someone earning P13,000 per month is taxed the same as someone earning P200,000,” said the expert, who requested anonymity for professional reasons. “Even if that P13,000 is classified as high income, it is not really high for this country. “In South Africa, the highest tax rate is around 45% to 50% and there, tax is paid on a global basis, meaning you have to pay tax for any income you earn anywhere in the world. “In Botswana, tax is only paid on incomes earned in the country, meaning wealthy people may have other earnings from rentals, investments and others around the world.”

The expert said while raising taxes too high for the wealthy could result in capital and skills flight as well as more instances of tax evasion, a balance could be struck for the higher earners.

While a holistic review of taxation laws is due to be finalised and presented to Parliament in November 2022, it is not expected that a wealth tax or more relief to the lower brackets will form part of the legislation.

Editor's Comment
Implement the recommendations Mr. President

The nation is eagerly awaiting this report to have a glimpse of what the recommendations are like, possibly for further debate. Mr. President, it’s our ardent hope that true to your promises, the public will have an opportunity to peruse the report and see if it reflects their interests as the Commission went around the length and breadth of the country collecting views of the people with some choosing to write to the Commission’s...

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