EVER DECREASING CIRCLES

Ever Decreasing Circles

Source: bftonline
Date: 9th-october-2017 Time:  12:32:06 pm

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In the run up to the presentation of his second budget to Parliament in November, the Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, has been meeting with various captains of industry.

The first flush of his Asempa budget, delivered in March 2017, is well behind him.  In front of the Minister are inherited bills, a number of deliberate surprises, to be settled and a few billion Ghc in current expenditure that we may or may not be able to afford, give or take, the depth of the deliberate sinkholes that were mined in the wake of Asomasi.

The question that Mr. Ofori-Atta is likely grappling with: did the projected revenue growth and collection targets he presented materialise?  If so, where and how, if not, why not, who, where and therefore....?

The budget for the financial year ending 2018 must be based on the reality of what has actually been delivered including the sobering returns of prices for our major exports (cocoa, gold, oil) and the results of audit reports. 

Given the government's great ambitions, particularly in agriculture and education, where will the spend and the inevitable pinch fall this time? The Minister may care to take note of the following vignette

Guinness Ghana Breweries Limited (GGBL) is not a charity.  As a subsidiary of Diageo Plc, the world's leading beverage company, the parent company knows how to and they actually do business, extremely successfully, in more than 180 countries around the world.

Their iconic brand portfolio from spirits and beers to soft drinks is simply staggering - Veuve Clicquot, Tanqueray Gin; Smirnoff, Pimms, Moet & Chandon, Ketel One, Johnnie Walker, Ciroc, Dom Perignon, Captain Morgan rum, Baileys Irish Cream ... these are the ones that come easily to mind.  Look up the rest yourself.

In 2017, Diageo (curious name derived from Latin and Greek words means literally, their products give pleasure every day, everywhere), reported volumes worth EU242.2 million; an increase of 584 million pounds sterling in net cash from operating activities to 3.132 billion pounds sterling; net sales up 14.% to 12 billion pounds sterling. 

Diageo is registered on the London Stock Exchange, their 2017 financial report is more than useful , their share price responded positively, up 18% to just over 1 pound sterling.  In every region in which the company operates - North America, Europe, Russia and Turkey, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean - volumes, net sales and operating profits were on the up.  It is only in Asia Pacific that volumes were down by a reported 6% and despite this, net sales and operating profits there too were positive.

Closer to home, GGBL is a total beverage company listed on our stock exchange, despite strong competition from others, it still dominates with more than half of the market share here, under its belt.

6 years ago, when I worked as Corporate Relations Director for GGBL, the company imported more than 80% of all its inputs, the translation in import taxes to government was eye watering. 

A socio economic impact analysis that the company had commissioned revealed that in one financial year alone, directly and through its value chain of employees, distributors and suppliers,  GGBL contributed more than 3% of total tax revenue in Ghana.  A powerful bargaining chip, if you recognised it for what it was most certainly worth.

With the analysis in hand and best practice/experience of other markets in Africa firmly in mind, GGBL sought to improve efficiency and reduce its tax exposure by seeking a Local Raw Material (LRM) amendment to the tax law.  The LRM initiative was as much about expanding the company's portfolio as it was about clawing back market share, addressing anomalies in the excise regime whilst simultaneously, deepening the company's social economic footprint and impact in communities across the market.  Diageo has a thing about doing good, everywhere it goes - I saw their Water of Life and Drink IQ programs and impact, from the inside out.

It took 18 months, a herculean effort of working with then Managing Director, Ekwunife Okoli; Damon Ansell and others from Diageo HQ and the region who flew in, called in, held virtual meetings, it seemed round the clock; going it alone and simultaneously coordinating with competitors in the industry to: produce the data; project the scenarios; develop the core messages required for high stakes public policy advocacy for tax reform.

Then the never ending arranging, attending and organising of follow up meetings with then Deputy Minister of Finance, Seth Terkper; then Minister of Trade and Industry, Hannah Tetteh; then Minister for Agriculture, Kwesi Ahwoi; crop scientists; Members of Parliament in whose constituencies an uptake in cassava output could impact or who sat on the various committees - subsidiary legislation, finance, agriculture.  Introduce the subject, anticipate their objections, listen attentively, come back and up with an evidenced based argument that they could relate to.... 

As a UK registered business, Diageo is subject to the country's anti bribery laws, as are its subsidiaries.  Every single step of the way, Diageo/GGBL holding firm to its Code of Business Conduct and compliance agenda.  Every single meeting recorded and reported back, no gifting of any sort, unless cleared and within the guidelines.  The message to the team - local and international - Deliver an amendment to the excise regime, ethically and quickly.

On the very day in 2012 that Parliament passed the Customs and Excise Act 855, introducing a sliding scale to increase incentives for breweries to source and use local products, I took a long holiday, known as 'terminal leave' and resigned from GGBL.  Glorious day.  I, we delivered, and then some.  Pass the baton. A Master Class in Public Policy, Tax Negotiation and Strategic Engagement.

Critically, Act 855 also locked in a mandatory review every 2 years on the efficacy of this LRM initiative.  In 2015, Act 855 was amended to Act 903, the tiers of the sliding scale were narrowed further.  Beverage companies pay 47.5% excise if they do not use any locally sourced raw materials.  If they incorporate 50% of LRM, excise is reduced to 32.5%, use 70 % and over of LRM and excise is reduced to 10%.

Since the launch of its LRM initiative, GGBL has announced investment of Ghc7.6 million specifically to: develop and test new recipes for existing brands to the company could use local crops like maize and sorghum instead of imported barley; develop value chains that can supply the quantity of raw materials at the required quality; and installing new machinery required.

GGBL reports that it has increased the volume of uptake of local products from 12% in 2012 to a current average of 48%.  However, for 2 of its brands - Ruut Beer (I can tell you the joys of negotiating with the Food and Drugs Authority as well as the Standards Authority to register the first labels!!), and Top Malt, they are well over the 70% LRM mark.  Malta Guinness and Guinness have today, at least 50% LRM ingredients. 

GGBL states that its goal is to reach an average of 70 percent LRM uptake by 2020.  The potential impact on employment, livelihoods, skills is ambitious.  They will have to show actual relevance, now, as in verifiable numbers that demonstrate improved incomes, employment, the development of a cassava value chain and the actual impact on livelihoods.

There are many who are skeptical of the real benefits of tax incentives for multinationals like GGBL in inefficient economies like ours.  

People like H.K. Prempeh, a Professor of law who also styles himself as "a spectator in the private sector" said "tax incentives are easily matched and cancelled out by rival countries.  We are better off competing on the intangibles: like low corruption; a credible judicial system; efficient, business-friendly bureaucracy; etc.  Tax holidays are really old school, in my view".  

Others are concerned about the impact that 'niche' cassava initiatives like the LRM, may impact our food security and true diversification of our agricultural base. 

It's about time to renegotiate the sliding tax LRM regime, me thinks.  I don't know which 'school' of thought this Minister of Finance belongs to, come November, Gabriel Opoku-Asare and GGBL, the beverage industry and the rest of us, will find out his intentions for them and for repositioning our agricultural industry to actually be competitive in the 21st century.    

When did we become the generation that dies?  Goodnight Peter Kodjo Biney, you were also a Master Class, in your own way.

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