Tax Policy and Governance

 

The South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) was established in 2006 by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF). It is designed to attract and retain excellence in research and innovation at South African public universities through the establishment of Research Chairs at public universities in South Africa. The SARChI Chair in Tax Policy and Governance, which position is currently held by Prof Riël Franzsen, director at the African Tax Institute at the University of Pretoria, is one such chair of excellence and innovation. 

The SARChI Chair in Tax Policy and Governance, which formally commenced in March 2013, was based on the realisation that tax-related research in the South African context usually involved a narrow public finance or a tax law approach. Given the nature of the tax environment, a more holistic approach was called for that involved multi- and trans-disciplinary research the hallmark of the Tax Policy and Governance Research Chair. With the wide range of fields of specialization in the tax environment, a first strategic principle involved carefully selecting research themes which are sufficiently aligned with national priorities. Presently, tax research at South African universities revolves predominantly around the two most important national taxes, income tax and value-added tax, whilst attention is also paid to the important area of international taxation. Rather than replicating (and thus duplicating) research efforts by also focusing primarily on these areas, the Tax Policy and Governance Research Chair focuses primarily on a number of less studied (at least in the South African and African context) thematic research areas. Within these research areas, the focus will more specifically be on tax policy issues – after all, good tax administration and governance depends on good tax policy. The selected research areas are the following:

  • Land and Property Taxes
  • Fiscal Decentralization and Sub-national Taxation
  • Natural Resource Taxation
  • Tax Policy and Rural Development 
  • Information Technology and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in the Tax Environment

Since 2018, a further two focus areas were added, namely:

  • Tax Compliance and 
  • International Taxation. 

Given this research chair’s intimidate association with the mission and vision of the African Tax Institute (ATI), SARChI students enrol for the same postgraduate programmes offered by the ATI. The chair holder also supervises or co-supervises ATI students, as well as SARChI students in the Department of Taxation, Department of Economics and the Faculty of Law.

Below are the SARChI Tax Policy and Governance grant recipients for their respective research over the years.

2021:

Dr Sansia Blackmore submitted her PhD thesis in March 2020 with Prof Sally Wallace (Extraordinary Professor) as supervisor and Prof Reneé van Eyden and Prof Riël Franzsen as co-supervisor. She was a SARChI student and graduated in September 2021.

In her study titled Reversing Poverty: The Role of Institutions, State Capacity and Human Empowerment, she explores the fundamental causes of poverty persistence, which remains a central challenge of the modern world. In theory, rising political participation operationalises checks on state predation and cultivates development-enabling state capacity. This did not materialise in post-colonial sub-Saharan Africa. The theoretical foundation of this premise is further brought into question by the development achievements of strong, capable non-democracies. The study uses a dynamic, panel-data model to explore a probabilistic development hypothesis that fuses institutionalism with modernisation and human empowerment. The model relies on regime-independent state capacity to trigger the transformational impetus of rising existential security, autonomy and individual agency. Ensuing shifts in societal value orientations towards emancipative mindsets then drive the progression towards prosperity. The results show that the poor-country deficit in human empowerment, represented by mind-broadening education and emancipative values, dwarfs the shortfalls in all other drivers of prosperity, including exports and investment.

 

2019-2020:

Dr Misaveni Ngobeni submitted his PhD thesis in October 2019 with Prof Martin Breitenbach as supervisor and Dr Goodness Aye and Prof Riël Franzsen as co-supervisors. He graduated in April 2020 as the sixth SARChI Chair doctoral student.

In his thesis, Assessing technical efficiency of provincial health and education sectors in South Africa, Dr Ngobeni used 12 Data Envelopment Analysis models with six variables to investigate the technical efficiency of health and education sectors in 2017/18. The average technical efficiency scores respectively ranged from 35.7 to 87.2 and 45.9 to 97.9 per cent between the health and education models. The Gauteng province was technically efficient in six healthcare models and three provinces were purely technically inefficient. They had to reduce 6 940 non-core health workers and spend R61 million less on healthcare while investing in core health infrastructure and personnel. KwaZulu-Natal was technically efficient in five of the six education models and six provinces were inefficient. They had to reduce education expenditure inefficiency by R24.7 billion and use potential savings to train existing and appoint additional 9 684 teachers.

 

Dr Roshelle Ramfol submitted her PhD thesis in April 2019 with Prof Riël Franzsen as supervisor and graduated in April 2020. She was the fifth SARChI Chair doctoral student to graduate.

In her thesis, Taxation of the extractive industry in the context of contemporary international fiscal regimes: lessons for South Africa, Dr Ramfol reviews the South African mineral and petroleum licencing and tax regime. Drawing from the experiences of Botswana, Norway and Alberta, Canada, regarding the awarding of extractive rights, generating fiscal returns and resource revenue management, the study reveals that an internationally competitive, stable, transparent and well-administered tax regime can produce a “fair” return. The South African tax regime generally meets these requirements. The competitiveness of the extractive sector can be enhanced by offering an exploration incentive. Furthermore, the mining charter requirements impose associated costs that impact the indirect sharing of resource rent. It is for this reason that these provisions can be regard as fiscally equivalent to taxation and should therefore be included when evaluating the investor-state fiscal take. Due to resource depletion and new technologies affecting resource demand, a resource-intensive economy should review its fiscal regime regularly adopting a value-based approach to policy formulation. A National Resource Fund with the dual objective of a stabilization and a savings fund must be established, thus creating intergenerational equity from a depleting resource.

 

2018:

Dr Bernd Schlenther graduated in September 2018 with a PhD Tax Policy with Prof Riël Franzsen as supervisor. He was the fourth SARChI Chair doctoral student to graduate.

In his thesis, An Evaluation of Tax Policy Measures required to Stem Illicit Financial Flows in the Diamond Value Chain, Bernd Schlenther uses an inter-disciplinary qualitative research approach, and focusing on the diamond value chain as a microcosm wherein “illicit financial flows” (IFFs) take place, he investigates this phenomenon and its pervasiveness in Sub-Saharan Africa. IFFs from developing countries in Africa are pervasive and detrimental to African economies, because they pose risks to macro-economic stability, tax revenues and governance. Broad consensus exists that IFFs are ill-defined, implying that different policy handles may be available to address the problem. This, in turn, implies inter-connected subsets of problems, including overlaps in tax, money laundering and corruption policies.

Bernd focuses on tax policy as a key component to address IFFs: aside from its revenue mobilization properties, tax policy is an important tool for good governance, democracy and the basis for the social fiscal contract between governments, on the one hand, and citizens and corporations, on the other. He applies the social sciences theory of “wicked problems” to the concept “IFFs,” in order to ascertain whether IFFs meet the criteria of wicked problems as set by Rittel and Webber in “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning” (1973), and whether the concept “IFFs” qualifies as a wicked problem. His in-depth analysis indicated that indeed IFFs constitute a wicked problem and that tax policy on its own is insufficient to address IFF concerns. A “whole of government approach”, supported by sound risk management practices, is best suited to address the scourge of IFFs. This requires that the prominent inter-connected subsets of problems that cut across multiple policy domains and levels of government must be identified before a workable solution can be proposed. He uses the diamond industry value chain to illustrate how inter-connected subsets of problems and policy overlaps related to IFFs, manifest. He explores whether action strategies or collaborative approaches, such as knowledge networks or other forms of horizontal government initiatives, e.g., the whole of government approach, are feasible solutions to address IFFs. He identifies the main types of risks in the diamond value chain and suggests action strategies to address these risks.

He concludes that government agencies can fight the scourge of IFFs in a more forceful manner where strategies to address tax evasion, money laundering and corruption are aligned and resources are optimized through mechanisms such as inter-agency cooperation, domestic and international information sharing, and the alignment of policies.

Dr Enelia Jansen van Rensburg submitted her LLD thesis in October 2017 with Prof Riël Franzsen as supervisor and graduated in April 2018. She was the third SARChI Chair doctoral student to graduate.

In her thesis, A South African Perspective on the Meaning of “Beneficial Ownership” in Article 10 of the OECD Model Tax Convention on Income and Capital in the Context of Conduit Company Treaty Shopping, Enelia Jansen Van Rensburg examines the interpretation of the beneficial ownership requirement in South African double taxation treaties in the context of tax avoidance structures involving conduit companies receiving cross-border dividends. The study considers the purpose for which the beneficial ownership requirement was inserted in the OECD Model Tax Convention. It also examines the approach to the interpretation of treaties prescribed by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and analyses the meanings given to the expression “beneficial owner” in foreign literature and case law, the Commentaries to the OECD Model Tax Convention and South African case and statutory law. Drawing from these findings, Enelia concludes her thesis by proposing the meaning that South African courts are likely to give to the term “beneficial owner” in South African double taxation treaties. The study provides valuable insight into the approach that South African courts will follow in interpreting both this and other undefined terms in these treaties.

 

2017:
Dr Carika Fritz graduated in September 2017 with an LLD thesis entitled An Appraisal of Selected Tax-Enforcement Powers of the South African Revenue Service in the South African Constitutional Context – prepared with Prof Thabo Legwaila (University of Johannesburg) as supervisor and Prof Riël Franzsen as co-supervisor. She is the second SARChI Chair doctoral student to graduate.

 

2016:

Dr Marius van Oordt submitted his PhD thesis A quantitative measurement of policy options to inform value-added tax reform in South Africa at the end of 2015 and successfully defended his thesis in January 2016. He graduated in April 2016. He studied under the supervision of Prof Franzsen and Prof Niek Schoeman and he is the first doctoral student to complete the PhD in Tax Policy and also the first SARChI Chair doctoral student to graduate.

Dr Van Oordt also won the coveted 2016 Norton Rose Fulbright prize for the best doctoral thesis in taxation in South Africa.

Published by Marius van Oordt

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