Building Public Trust

Tax as a strategic asset

Taxes are one of the ways in which businesses contribute to society. The positive impact of taxpayers operating in Africa should be acknowledged, put in the right context and communicated in a transparent manner.

There is value in integrating reporting on tax sustainability and economic impact. Open dialogue with stakeholders and easily accessible information about tax can demonstrate value creation for all stakeholders, improve business reputation by building trust and reinforce the licence to operate.

It is recommended that companies demonstrate how their actions meet stakeholder expectations and how these actions are consistent with brand values. Companies that are getting their tax messaging right have identified material tax-related communications and embed these into their long-term value-creation story.

 

Business people having a meeting in an office

Building trust – Tax, as an integral part of ‘long-term sustainable value creation’ of companies and society in general, has taken root

With a heightened sense of urgency surrounding environmental, social, and humanitarian issues, there is an elevated sense of societal pressure on leading organisations and their governing boards to take action and reset. Business as usual, with a sole focus on profitability, has become obsolete. 

Purpose-driven companies are reaping the benefits of a focus on their triple bottom line of people, planet and profit — positioning themselves for sustainable success. The time has come to focus, not on being the best in the world, but the best for the world. In other words, companies need to earn their ‘social licence to operate’ with public trust as the definitive currency. Furthermore, companies will need to report and deliver on their sustainability claims given the increased focus on transparency. 

Many organisations are starting to demonstrate the interconnectedness across environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues and how these relate to their business strategies. At the same time, sustainability, and particularly ESGs, are being placed high on the board and CEO agenda . ESG integration requires leadership and an ESG transformation mindset. Board members and executives therefore need to ensure that this mindset is embedded across all levels of the organisation, including the tax function.

Companies operating in Africa are facing a complex tax landscape and vigorous scrutiny. Stakeholder engagement and strong relationships are key to finding clarity and certainty amid the complexity. We have often observed that transparency builds trust. Communicating an organisation’s contributions to the society in which it operates is one important way of building long-term trust with the public (people in the street, customers and media) and other stakeholders (employees, the board, suppliers and other business partners, NGOs, lawmakers and standard-setting bodies). 

Furthermore, voluntary tax transparency is a way of demonstrating that an organisation actually does business in a sustainable and responsible way, as companies’  tax-paying practices are an integral part of the sustainability debate. As an important source of government revenue, taxes play a vital role in advancing the achievement of the SDGs. A company’s tax payments are therefore a way of compensating society for the institutions and services it has access to.

PwC supports this initiative to encourage and promote greater voluntary transparency in tax reporting. In this way we are able to demonstrate trends that are shaping the tax transparency landscape and recognise best performing companies that are using voluntary tax disclosure to tell their story, thereby demonstrating good corporate citizenship as responsible taxpayers.

We want to emphasise that there can never be an optimal disclosure level. The organisational approach to voluntary tax transparency is not an isolated approach but depends on the overall business strategy, broader (stakeholder) reporting and sustainability commitments. In our view, a company’s tax disclosure is determined by who its stakeholders are and for what purpose it is providing the disclosure. What is the company already obliged to disclose? What additional information can help to tell the whole story, which may not be fully explained by legal disclosure obligations?

 

COVID-19 has fuelled the public debate on tax

There is an increasingly global awareness of responsible tax behaviour and the role taxes play in promoting sustainable and inclusive economic growth. There is no telling what will define the tax landscape during and post the pandemic. What we do know is there will most certainly be accelerating demands for greater transparency in an environment where the media and civil society are sceptical about the taxes paid by multinationals.

Values drive behaviours that are required to realise purpose. Companies must be able to verbalise what this translates into for tax, as tax is more than a cost of doing business. How a company demonstrates its commitment to being a responsible taxpayer, through its taxes enabling governments to pay for public services, should be recognised and celebrated, especially in cases where companies remain focused on sustainability programmes that help address fallout from COVID-19, now and in the future.

With this in mind, we are encouraged by the findings of our Building Public Trust Through Tax Reporting initiative for 2019 year ends, as we found there to be a definite increase in voluntary tax disclosures among the companies that formed part of the study.

We summarise trends that are shaping the tax transparency landscape and provide examples of how companies are responding by using voluntary tax disclosures to tell their story, thereby demonstrating good corporate citizenship as responsible taxpayers.

Our report features the emerging trends in tax transparency in areas such as tax strategy and risk management, tax numbers and performance and total tax contribution and wider impact.  We consider whether a company demonstrates a clear understanding of how to effectively provide transparency of taxes (easy to find and well communicated) and whether tax related disclosure is integrated with other company related disclosure (i.e., a sense of value reporting on tax disclosure and how it integrates with and relates to the business). 

As in previous years, we recognise companies that have demonstrated value creation through voluntary public disclosure for the 2019 financial year.

 

Companies that are highly commended for consistent performance in tax reporting

MTN

MTN continues to succeed in utilising tax transparency to illustrate accountability. Overall, MTN clearly communicates detailed information on tax related matters and, additionally, the positioning of these disclosures demonstrate porting of the Group’s contribution to the societies to which it is accountable. The report is easy to read with good context of the operating environment and potential impacts on the company’s ability to operate or add value.  Detailed disclosure is provided, covering key aspects to promote greater stakeholder understanding and decision-making. MTN’s tax report also provides a comprehensive overview of adherence to King IVTM principles as they relate to tax governance.

 

Absa

Absa provides a high level of integration and consistency across various reports, which provides a detailed understanding of how the company manages tax. Emphasis is placed on the role tax plays in the ‘economic’  component of ESGs and sound governance and transparency in tax is aligned with King IVTM.  Detailed disclosure with contextual information is provided of its total tax contribution on a country-by-country basis. The disclosure is drafted in a manner that is easy to understand, aimed at all its stakeholders.

 

Vodacom

Vodacom continues to set the bar high with its extensive disclosure for the 2019 financial year demonstrating application of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Tax Standard 207, alignment to King IVTM and other enterprise risk frameworks in its approach. Its foundation for open and transparent reporting with regards to tax strategy, policies, practices, risks and economic contributions is its commitment to delivering on its Social Contract. In addition to a detailed discussion of its position on tax in the context of its licence to operate and its alignment to the United Nations Sustainability Goals (SDGs), Vodacom provides detailed public disclosure of country-by-county reporting.

 


Companies that are highly commended for most significant improvement in tax reporting

Nedbank

Nedbank made significant efforts to provide more disclosure on tax, recognising that it has a responsibility to not only be good with money, but to also do good with money. It succeeds in effectively providing transparency of the Group’s own taxes and also demonstrates that its accountability extends beyond its own taxes as a financial institution. Nedbank clearly demonstrates that the responsibility for tax governance is a top priority for the governing board and robustly embedded from the top down. It provides a detailed explanation of the categories of taxes that form part of its total tax contribution per jurisdiction.

 

Exxaro

Exxaro provides open, honest  and specific communication on tax matters. The disclosures tell a consistent story about the Group’s tax strategy and tax policy, and its commitment to tax transparency is strongly demonstrated. The high level of tax transparency promotes significant trust in Exxaro’s tax risk management, at both the strategic and operational levels. Exxaro also demonstrates maturity in its approach to tax transparency, by recognising that different stakeholders have differing concerns regarding the Group’s taxes.

 

We would also like to commend companies such as Anglo American Platinum, Kumba Iron Ore, Naspers, Anglo Gold Ashanti, Impala Platinum, African Rainbow Minerals and Aspen Pharmacare for continuously providing more information on tax publicly.

 

Our review panel

Lizette is a senior lecturer in the department of accounting at the University of Pretoria (UP).

Loshni is the Project Director: Integrated Thinking, Sustainability, Integrated Reporting at SAICA.

Sheralee is the past president of the Institute of Risk Management of South Africa

Tracy is the head of postgraduate taxation at the Department of Finance and Tax at the University of Cape Town

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Troopti Desai

Troopti Desai

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Tel: +27 (0) 11 797 4552

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