It certainly seems that way.
Transport Minister Jeff Radebe is undoubtedly pleased with the stellar performance of the Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) It earned operating profit of R977-million from revenue of R2.2-billion for the year to the end of June.
In other words, for every R2.20 in revenues, Acsa banked a tidy profit of 97.7 cents ? a net margin of close to 50 percent. Anyone who runs his or her own business would kill for that kind of profit. So good were the results that the minister described Acsa as the ?jewel? in the crown of the SOE?s.
I would be the last person to condemn the profitability of any entity. It is my very firm belief that capitalism is to date the most sustainable of economic systems human kind has devised ? but I do take issue when monopolies are seemingly allowed to exploit their dominance.
How Acsa makes cash
Passenger traffic rose 11.4 percent, revenues were up 12 percent and operating profit was 30 percent higher. Good numbers. Acsa makes its money in two ways: aeronautical and non-aeronautical revenues. Effectively the first bit relates to airport taxes that you and I pay each time we fly in and out of any of South Africa?s ten biggest airports, the second comes largely from advertising, parking and renting retail space ? the fees on the latter are amongst the highest in the country.
It was three years ago that Acsa was accused in the Government Gazette of making super-profits and instructed to give back some of the money it was making to their airlines. As far as I can tell, that didn?t happen.
Acsa CEO Monhla Hlahla says the company needs to make the profits to fund its expansion. Government clearly agrees with her sentiments as it does have a vast amount of work to do to upgrade its infrastructure ahead of 2010. Hlahla plans to spend R5.2-billion on capex at Acsa ahead of the World Cup to ensure it runs smoothly. (Applause). That is all well and good.
A couple of points however; Sasol this week has been making submissions to the Treasury Task team investigating whether or not it should be paying a windfall tax because of the government support it received in the days when the oil price made its coal-to-liquids projects unprofitable.
Government believes it?s due some payback ? and it may have a point.
Sasol shareholders, Apartheid and Nazis
Today?s shareholders are reaping the benefits of the capital investment made by tax-payers during the Apartheid era as the Nats funded the technology development. (The technology we are constantly reminded by the news service Bloomberg, which was designed by the Nazis.)
?Hold on a moment!? exclaims Sasol. ?But if you impose a windfall tax on us, we won?t be able to expand and create jobs. Other countries would be giving us subsidies, not imposing taxes?? Also a compelling argument.
Sasol argues that one of the reasons we pay less for fuel in South Africa than you might in Europe is that up to 40 percent of the petrol in our tanks comes from Sasol. That means we have to import less crude oil and therefore it also helps the current account.
Would government be shooting itself in the foot if it forced Sasol to pay a windfall tax? The short answer is that I don?t know. The arguments are highly technical.
But it does strike me as somewhat contradictory that on the one hand government praises the profitability of an entity it owns that needs capital for expansion and could very well impose a super-tax on private entity that is making a very similar argument.