Cooldrink tax isn't just a sugar rush 21 April 16 .pdf

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Let's hope cooldrink tax isn't just a sugar rusfi
VIRUSHA SUBBAN
and YONATAN SHER
THE tax on sugar-sweetened
beverages, announced by Finance
Minister Pravin Gordhan in his
February budget speech, will come
into effect on April 1 next year.
Strangely, the date it will come
into effect is all anyone knows
about the new excise tax category.
We are in the dark about
whether it will be levied at the
consumer or manufacturer level;
whether it will be indiscriminate or
will correlate to the sugar content;
and what beverages it will target.
That is a lot of detail to work
out in less than 12 months and little
time to iron out all the issues
involved in its implementation.
Compare this with the UK's
sugar tax proposal announced by
Chancellor George Osborne in his
budget less than a month after
Gordhan delivered his budget.
Osborne detailed how he
envisioned the tax would work. He
said it would be levied at the
manufacturer level, taxed according
to two categories of sugar content,
and would exclude boutique
producers, pure fruit juice and
milk-based beverages.
He assured the UK public the
government would consult on the
tax's implementation. Still~ he is
giving the UK legislature and
beverage industry until April 2018
before the tax becomes effective.
There are several ways that the
Tr('asury could institute SA's sugar
tax. The most transparent route
would he through a full legislative
prnct•ss, which begins with the
1t'lt·v1111t government department
p11blishi11g progressively more
rl'llrll'd discussion documents t'n ll1·d ):l't't' ll and whit e papers -

Both the UK and SA plan to tax sugary drinks, but Britain's finance minister has provided far more details. Picture: REUTERS
that detail the department's policy
considerations and thought
processes, and opening them for
public comment.
Draft legislation is prepared and
considered by the Cabinet. The
· draft legislation is sometimes
published in the Government
Gazette, or given to certain
organisations for further comment.
After all comments have been
considered, it is introduced as a bill
in Parliament, in line with the
processes set out in chapter four of
the Constitution.
Bills that impose taxes, levies, or
duties, such as the sugar tax, are
distinguished by the Constitution as
money bills and can be·introduced
only by the minister of finance in
the National Assembly.
The Constitution envisions a
participatory democracy in which
Parliament is transparent,
accountable, and facilitates public

involvement in the legislative
process. These principles urge
public participation in the drafting
and adoption of proposed new laws.
However, there is no obligation
on the government to publish
discussion papers or draft bills for
comment. It can, and often does,
skip right to tabling a bill for
consideration by the Cabinet, with
minimal public engagement.
The Constitutional Court has
found that Parliament ha.S broad

fTI Gordhan can

L.L.I circumvent the
public engagement
process in getting
his sugar tax on the
statute books
~

discretion to determine how best to
fulfil its constitutional obligation to
facilitate public involvement, as
long as it acts reasonably.
More worrying, however, is that
there is another method that
Gordhan can potentially use to get
his sugar tax on the statute books
that circumvents the entire publicengagement process.
The Customs and Excise Act of
1964 and itS schedules contain all
the excise taxes and environmental
taxes, payable in SA. The schedules
to the act detail which products are
taxed and by how much.
Such taxes include the
environmental levy, on plastic bags,
the fuel levy and excise duties on
alcohol and tobacco. It makes sense
that a sugar tax would be instituted
as an amendment to this act.
Section 48 of the act provides
that the minister of finance may
amend the tariff schedules

"whenever he deems it expedient in
the public interest to do so" by
mere notice in the Government
Gazette, without going through any
further legislative process.
This is how the levy on
incandescent (electric filament)
light bulbs was introduced in 2009.
It was announced in then finance
minister Trevor Manuel's 2009
budget speech and introduced by
notice in the Government Gazette
by then deputy finance minister
Nhlanhla Nene in terms of section
48. No further legislative process
was necessary or ·engaged in.
Gordhan, thus, has a speedy
option to push through his sugar
tax without a full legislative process
that would normally involve layers
of thorough and transparent
consultation with affected
industries and the public.
After industry expressed much
concern about the lack of
information and communication on
the new tax, it appears that the
Beverage Association of SA
managed to secure a meeting with
the Treasury today.
The Consumer Goods Council of
SA and other organisations are still
waiting for feedback on their
requests to meet with the Treasury.
Hopefully, these meetings will
clarify some of the proposed details
of the tax and allay some of the
c.oncerns. The public and industry
should be thoroughly engaged, as
envisioned by the values enshrined
in the Constitution. There should
be no secret ingredients in a sugar
tax proposal.

• Subban is a partner at Bowman
Gilfillan Africa Group specialising
in customs, excise and international
trade, and Sher is a candidate
attorney at the law firm.


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