MY CHALLENGE TO THE NATIONAL COUNCIL AGAINST SMOKING

On 8 October, the Executive Director of the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS), Savera Kalideen wrote in the Daily Maverick a column entitled “Increasing Tobacco taxes saves lives and raises revenue.”

Kalideen argues that by increasing tobacco taxes, government will grow its revenue.

Allow me take this opportunity to respond.

Kalideen correctly states that some tobacco companies pay the taxes they owe but most do not and that as a result, tobacco tax revenues are declining.

She argues that the solution to this is to increase tax rates on the few tobacco companies that actually pay up. Really?

Surely a better idea would be for government to rigorously enforce its tax laws against companies which are evading tax and once it does that, then it might make sense to increase the rates.

Before that, a tax increase would be futile, even counterproductive.

The fundamental problem with the NCAS proposal to increase tax rates is that for each of the last three years (including this year), the government has not lifted a finger to tackle illicit trade and related tax evasion in the tobacco industry and criminals have enjoyed an effective tax holiday.

Here are two facts that are undisputable (except by illegal cigarette sellers and their apologists)…

Illegal cigarettes in South Africa are widely available and visible in almost every informal shop in the country, even more so than most legal brands.

They are sold for as little as R5 per pack. R5, Let that sink in. What possible good could a tax rate increase do when 20 cigarettes can be easily bought tax free for R5?

In each of the last three years, the NCAS lobbied government to increase tobacco taxes, on the pretext that they would increase revenue and reduce smoking.

Government did so – above the rate of inflation – and government lost money.

According to Treasury’s testimony before the SARS Inquiry, tobacco excise receipts are down 20% in the past 12 months alone. Government tobacco tax revenue falls every year despite rate increases. And not because people are smoking less but because people are smoking tax free.

Why is this? It’s become painfully clear from the SARS Inquiry that our tax collection agency is thoroughly broken and was likely deliberately broken between 2014 and 2017, partially to protect tobacco smugglers.

In 2016, the former SARS administration established a Tobacco Task Team. That team did not investigate one single tobacco company.

Instead, it focused on suspending a senior anti-illicit tobacco investigator in the organisation and an anti-corruption agent who had received intelligence about a SARS official colluding with a tobacco smuggler. This is a national disgrace!

Clearly, a priority for the country is that government should enforce its tax laws. And specifically, it should re-learn how to enforce its tobacco tax laws. Until it does, there is no sense whatsoever in increasing tax rates.

Its time to stop doing what’s not working and fix the basics.

It certainly appears as if Acting SARS Commissioner, Mark Kingon, wants to crack down on illegal cigarettes.

But so far, nothing has happened. It may be that Tom Moyane’s acolytes retain significant power in SARS. It may be that the institution is so broken it will take more time to fix but until it is working again, tax increases will achieve nothing except more revenue declines – as has been the case in the past few years.

I am the spokesperson for the #TakeBackTheTax campaign, a TISA funded campaign which demands that government take action now against tax evasion in the tobacco industry.

I therefore call on SARS to investigate everyone, including the international players, but crucially, also those companies whose brands are selling on the market for a fraction of the legal minimum tax owed to SARS.

It is more than a little surreal that TISA, a tobacco industry association, must run a petition to force government to enforce its own tobacco tax laws and collect what is owed. But that’s our current reality.

I have a proposition for the NCAS…
I challenge the National Council Against Smoking to throw its support behind the #TakeBackTheTax campaign.

I challenge the NCAS to do the right thing, show leadership and resolve and join the 15,000 citizens that have already petitioned SARS to collect what South Africa is owed from the tobacco industry.

Once they do that, and the illicit cigarette trade in South Africa is reduced to the global average of 10%, I will support NCAS’ call to increase tobacco excise.

*Yusuf Abramjee
Spokesperson #TakeBackTheTax
Anti-Crime activist
@Abramjee

Using technology to combat crime in South Africa

With the multitude of emergency numbers available in South Africa getting help is not as clear cut as it should be.

Adding to the frustration is the time wasted due to the lack of information available to the emergency operator.

They don’t know who you are, or where you are.

Namola, a free emergency safety app, supported by Dialdirect Insurance, takes the hassle out of getting help in an emergency.

The moment a Namola user pushes the button to request assistance, the app sends through the user’s GPS location and emergency profile so that the user’s dedicated Namola operator knows immediately where the user is and who they are. With a quick confirmation of the nature of the emergency, the Namola operator will then coordinate the right help for the emergency and send the user the help they need.

Thanks to innovative thinking, Namola uses technology to ensure that you are able to get help, no matter the scenario. For example, if a user can’t speak, Namola’s in-app chat feature allows an alternative method of communication with the Namola operator and the first responders. Even if the user is on the move, the GPS location will constantly be updated, giving South Africans peace of mind that no matter what the situation, they can let someone know that they need help.

Namola knows that every emergency is different. In addition to having over 1400 geofenced control rooms on their database, Namola has added counselling services, social workers and community safety initiatives to the ways South Africans can get help.

Recently, the company launched their latest innovation, Namola Watch, which allows established Neighbourhood Watch teams to respond to reported incidents in their communities faster than before.

“Namola has changed the way that we are able to respond to emergencies in our community,” says Graham Holmquist of Riga Rescue, a Namola Watch Responder.

”Knowing the type as well as the exact coordinates of the emergency cuts down time and allows us to give help faster than before. Whenever we get to the scene of an emergency that has not been reported via Namola, we ensure as many people on scene download the Namola App there and then.”

Namola encourages South Africans not only to get help for themselves with Namola, but to use it as a trusted resource to get others in your community help.

“It’s great to see that so many people are using Namola to report emergencies on behalf of others,” says Maanda Tshifularo, Head of Namola’s sponsor, Dialdirect Insurance. ”We love that Namola is fast becoming the tool of choice to combat crime and make communities in South Africa a safer place to live.”

Namola is available as a free download at namola.co/sfa

*Yusuf Abramjee is the Chief Ambassador for the Namola/DialDirect safety app and an anti-crime activist.

THOUSANDS MORE ADD THEIR NAME TO THE #TakeBackTheTax CAMPAIGN

MEDIA UPDATE:

Sunday 7 October 2018

THOUSANDS MORE ADD THEIR NAME TO THE #TakeBackTheTax CAMPAIGN

Almost 14 000 citizens have now added their names to a campaign calling on Government to act immediately and stop the illegal cigarette trade.

#TakeBackTheTax was launched by the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa (TISA) a few weeks ago.

The campaign calls on authorities to act as a matter of urgency and stop the illegal cigarette trade, as it is costing the country millions of rands.

“Our economy is losing billions of rands because of the illegal cigarette trade. This money could be used to get much needed resources and basic services to citizens,” said spokesman for #TakeBackTheTax, Yusuf Abramjee.

He said the last two weeks has seen a significant increase in the number of names that have been added.
At least 4000 citizens made their submission in the past 14 days.

The submission reads as follows:

“I Implore the South African Revenue Service, the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa and law enforcement agencies to act with urgency and take decisive steps in combating the trade of illegal cigarettes. By doing so we will stop the South African economy from losing R7 billion in potential tax revenue every year. I ask that the aforementioned parties conduct thorough investigations into claims of tax evasion by all cigarette manufacturers, to implement and enforce new laws to mitigate the negative impact that illegal cigarettes have on low-income communities.”

Abramjee, who is also an anti-crime activist, said that “it is clear from revelations before the SARS Inquiry that the dramatic growth in illicit trade in the tobacco sector is the result of deliberate and corrupt decisions by the former SARS administration. The new administration which has been in place for more than 7 months, has promised a lot but nothing has been done. Illegal cigarette companies have had a tax enforcement holiday for 4 years now. This national disgrace must end”

“It’s daylight robbery to see cigarettes openly being sold for between R5 and R10. Tax is being evaded. This nonsense must stop,” he said.

Abramjee said this is “tax evasion in its crudest form and the distributors responsible are using ‘multiple invoicing’ techniques as a way to mislead and trick SARS and avoid paying tax and excise duties.”

He appealed to the public to continue to add their names to the submission by visiting www.takebackthetax.org

Follow the campaign on Twitter: @takebackthetax

Abramjee said: “It’s extremely encouraging to see more and more South Africans standing up and taking a stand against this specific type of lawlessness. We urge everyone to do the right thing and join our movement.

“Let’s all become active citizens and let’s tell authorities loud and clear: #TakeBackTheTax

End

Enquiries:
Yusuf Abramjee
Spokesperson
Cell 082 4414 203
Twitter: @abramjee

*INTERVIEWS: Please what’s app