Ghosn Press Conference

Former Nissan and Renault CEO, Carlos Ghosn staged an escape from home-arrest in Japan and flew to Lebanon on December 31, where he re-emerged this week and gave a press conference to justify his decision to flee. 

In the session, broadcast live from Lebanon, he spoke of the decline in Nissan’s performance that started after he left as CEO to focus on bringing Mitsubishi into the Alliance. He had been CEO for 17 years and left Nissan in 2016 with $20 billion cash, profitable, growing, respected, having taken it from nowhere in 1999 to a top (no 60) brand in the world. But performance dived after he left, in 2017 and 2018. 

He traced his troubles to a shareholder vote in France to give Nissan which owned 15% of Renault voting powers there, similar to what Renault had at Nissan in Japan with its 15%. But the vote did not attain the threshold required and the Japan government was upset and blamed him for that – and saw removing him as the only way that Nissan would get autonomy.  

He was surprised (like Pearl Harbor) when he was arrested at an airport terminal in Japan in November 2018 and told he was being charged with understating his compensation – an amount which was not fixed, approved or paid. He wanted to call Nissan to get a lawyer and (at the time) he did not know it was stage-managed. They were trumped-up charges which, while Nissan pled guilty to in Japan and paid a fine to its government, in Tennessee (USA) they had denied the same charges.

The job of the CEO is to create value, and that of the board is to protect shareholders – but, he said, today there is no alliance – I worry as a shareholder we lost 35% of value while the entire auto industry is up 12%. Today the Nissan-Renault alliance, which was the number one auto group in the world in 2017, does not work – They wanted to turn the Ghosn page and they have – growth has disappeared, profits are down, there is no strategic direction and innovation. 

What they have today is a masquerade of an alliance that is going nowhere – and they missed out on bringing Fiat Chrysler into the Alliance which he had been negotiating – and who instead chose to join the PSA (the Peugeot, Citroën) group.

The presumption of guilt prevailed and he was pressured to confess in a country where the conviction rate is 99%. He spent 130 days in isolation, underwent endless interrogations, spoke to his wife twice in nine months (in the presence of a lawyer) – and when I left Japan, I did not have a court date for the first charge – and my lawyers said it would be five years before I got a judgment – which he led him to conclude that he would die in Japan if he did not get out.  

 Another theme of his defence was that he was not greedy. He had served the company for a long time and in 2009, amid the US auto crisis, he was asked to become the CEO of General Motors and engineer a similar turnaround there. He now says, he made a mistake and should have accepted that offer. 

He was determined to fight back against a smear campaign that was part of a €200 million investigation. I was a hostage in a country I had served for 17 years, I revived a company – I was a case study and role model in Japan with 20 books written about me, then instantly I became a cold greedy dictator.

Absa AFM Index shows African countries improve in investor readiness

The 2019 Africa Financial Markets Index report that was released in October, found that several countries had closed gaps to perennial leader South Africa, improving on several measures such as financial transparency, local investor capacity, legal protection and macroeconomic opportunity.

Showing just how much African countries have made progress, while only six had scored better than 50 (out of the maximum 100) in the first index in 2017, last year ten countries did that, and in 2019, thirteen countries scored better than 50 points.

The ranking of countries in the Absa 2019 Africa Financial Markets Index and some of the market/investor activities highlighted in the report include:

South Africa (and also number 1 in the last index): Is the top country in 5 pillars after it regained the lead from Kenya on the foreign exchange one. The JSE also launched a Nasdaq clearing platform.

2 (4) Mauritius: Has diversified its economy from sugar and textiles to tourism and financial services. It leads the continent in pension assets under management of $4,331 per capita. It has also established a derivatives trading platform.

3 (3)Kenya: More detail on Kenya’s ranking and investor initiatives here.

4 (6) Namibia: Bank Windhoek issued a green bond in the year. One concern is that the country lacks sufficient financial markets experts.

5 (2) Botswana: The country’s exchange has large market capitalization, but this is mostly due to dual-listed mining companies that have low trading volumes. They also formed a financial stability council to coordinate different regulators and plan to launch a mobile phone bond product like Kenya’s M-Akiba.

6 (5) Nigeria: Showed big improvement as they have liberalized their exchange rate and built up reserves. Pension funds were freed up to invest in infrastructure, bond, and Sukuk funds.

7 (15) Tanzania: Created a tax ombudsman and also repealed an amendment that had made it illegal to publish statistics that were not approved by the Government.

8 (8) Zambia: Improved budget reporting. But reserves dropped due to high interest payments on external debt as mining production has declined.

9 (11) Rwanda: Share of exports grew, and an agreement was reached with the IMF to accelerate urbanization and financial markets.

10 (10) Uganda: Market trading activity dropped from $25 million to  $11 million and one of the largest stockbrokers opted not to renew their operating license.

Others were:

11 (16) Egypt: Topped the pillar of macro-economic opportunity due to export gains and declines in non-performing loans. Moody’s also upgraded their banking system ratings.

12 (9) Morocco: Now publishes monetary policy announcements and data releases. Has an active financial market but limited availability of financial products. It plans to launch an agricultural commodities exchange.

13 (7) Ghana: Is seeking to cap foreign holdings of government debt. The Bank of Ghana merged small banks and revoked licenses of others that did not meet minimum capital requirements.

16 (13) Ivory Coast: Enabled more-accessible budget reporting and plans to launch an agricultural commodities exchange for 2020.

20 (20) Ethiopia: Announced plans to launch a stock exchange for 2020, with aims to have significant privatization events including the listing of telecommunication companies. Local banks are also adopting international financial reporting standards. But the requirement that their pension funds can only invest in government securities is considered an impediment.

Also on the index are Seychelles (ranked 14), Mozambique (15), Angola (17), Senegal (18) and Cameroon (19). The 2019 AFM Index report was produced by the Absa Bank Group and the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF) and it can be downloaded here.

Kenya Tax Changes in 2020

A look at some of the Tax changes that become effective on January 1, 2020, as a result of the Finance Bill 2019 that was signed by the President on 7 November 2019.

The highlight was the repeal of Section 33B of the Banking Act which had put an interest rate cap on commercial bank loans, but there are also other taxation clauses of note.

  • Import Declaration Fee levy has been increased from 2% to 3.5%. Also, the Railway Development Levy, which is an important component of paying for the SGR, has been increased from 1.5% to 2%.
  • Companies that list under the Nairobi Securities Exchange’s GEMS program for the next three years can be forgiven tax penalties and interest, provided they pay the principal amount. This move to encourage listing at the NSE became effective in November 2019. But if they delist within five years, that window lapses and all taxes due before listing will again become payable.
  • Taxes also go up for cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, fruit wines and spirits.
  • Motor vehicle excise taxes go up from 20 to 25% for cars over 1500 cc, and that for station wagons and race cars go up from 30 to 35%, but for electric-powered motor vehicles, that goes down from 20 to 10%.
  • Sports betting companies take another hit with a 20% tax lopped on to each bet amount, regardless of the outcome of the wager.
  • New economy taxes: The new year ushers in taxes on the digital economy market place – this encompasses “platforms that enable interaction between buyers and sellers of goods & services through electronic means” who are now liable for income tax and value-added tax (VAT). Along with that, a taxpayer PIN is mandatory when one is registering for a paybill and till numbers (to process mobile payments) through a telephone company
  • Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT’s), which were exempt from corporate tax are now also exempt from income tax.
  • There is an income tax exemption for people who register under the Government’s Ajira Digital (online work) program from January 2020 to December 2022.
  • Green bonds: Interest income on all listed infrastructure bonds, or green bonds,that are a minimum three years to maturity will be exempt from income tax as will income on the National Housing Development Fund.
  • Turnover tax of 3% has been reintroduced and will be payable monthly by any business whose turnover does not exceed Kshs 5 million (~$50,000) in any year. EDIT – does not apply to companies already registered for VAT or those earning employment income rental income, engaged in management & professional services and limited liability companies. There is also a Presumptive Tax, a new tax that is 15% of the annual fee paid for a license e.g. to operate in Nairobi County and that can be offset when paying the turnover tax.
  • Environmental stuff: Plastic recycling companies will get a preferential corporate tax rate of 15% for five years and machinery and equipment used for plastic recycling plants are now VAT exempt. But, going the other way, equipment for the development of solar and wind energy, including batteries, which were previously exempt from VAT, now require the Cabinet Secretary for Energy to approve any such exemptions.
  • A taxpayer PIN is now mandatory when one is renewing membership in a professional body or with any licensing agency.
  • Mitumba and shipment consolidators are now recognized – if they have warehouses in the country of origin and Kenya, and have no history of dealing with substandard or counterfeit goods.

Meanwhile, the President said at the Jamhuri Day celebrations (on December 12) that a mortgage scheme he had previously proposed, and which entailed a deduction of 1.5% of salaries, would not be mandatory. Parliament resumes in February 2020 and we shall see if they amend that.

Extracts from reports done by KPMG East Africa, RSM Eastern Africa LLP and KN Law LLP .

Nakumatt Folds

The Daily Nation today (December 17) has a story about the closing of Nakumatt after efforts to revive it appear to have been abandoned. The Nation has learnt that the chain has now sold what was left of the six branches to rival Naivas Supermarket in a deal that will see the Nakumatt brand completely disappear by the end of the year.

The last five years have been a roller-coaster period for Nakumatt. Here are some highs and lows taken from news reports and press releases.

May 2014: Nakumatt opens its 46th branch in Kitale and its third in the North Rift area – a Kshs 140 million investment, located at the new Mega Centre mall.

August 2014: Nakumatt opens its 50th branch in Arusha, Tanzania.

July 2015: Nakumatt unveils its store at the refurbished Westgate mall that had been closed following a terrorist attack in September 2013. The media tour will be followed by a tree planting session at the new Mwanzi-Kabete road link recently developed by Westgate Mall Management in association with the Nairobi City County, to ease traffic flow.

March 2016: Nakumatt opened its 59th store at Kakamega and its second in that town. That month, Nakumatt also opened Sports Planet, a sporting gear store at Westgate.

May 2016: Nakumatt opened its 60th and 61st branches respectively – at Emali town along the Nairobi-Mombasa Highway and in Nairobi’s Kitisuru suburb.

December 2016: Nakumatt management projects having a good festive season stretching from Diwali through Christmas, with expectations to improve sales by 34% over the previous year at their 62 branches across East Africa. They later opened their 63rd store, a 60,000 square foot space, at the new NextGen Mall in Nairobi located on Mombasa Road to serve customers in the South B and South C areas. They are also at an advanced stage to open a 64th one in Kigali, Rwanda.

October 2017: The directors of Nakumatt Holdings apply to the High Court on October 30 for the company to go into voluntary administration under the Insolvency Act. They propose that Peter Kahi of PKF Consulting be appointed as an Independent Administrator to turn round the business and work with Nakumatt’s creditors. The directors chose this route as the administration will enable Nakumatt to be maintained as a going concern and to continue to trade and generate revenue to meet its ongoing financial obligations. Under the Act, while a company is under administration, there is a moratorium on certain legal processes, including a moratorium against enforcement of security over the company’s property

The notice reads that rival Tusker Mattresses (Tuskys) has undertaken to investment in and merge with Nakumatt. Also, that banks are supportive of this move and the Competition Authority of Kenya has been notified of the Tuskys deal.

December 2018: Nakumatt moves into a smaller 40,000 square foot store that they had first occupied in 1989 at Mega Mall, along Uhuru Highway. This is in the building next to their former “Mega hypermarket” that was one of their flagship stores. Nakumatt now operates just seven restocked branches in Nairobi, Nakuru and Kisumu under a business recovery programme dubbed Nakumatt BounceBack, that is supported by scores of local and international suppliers keen on seeing the firm back on track.

September 2019: A second meeting between the Administrator and Nakumatt’s creditors fails to happen as the financial audit of the firm for the years 2017, 2018 and 2019 have not been completed. Earlier the Court had directed an audit be done, and the firm of Parker Randall Eastern Africa had been selected after a bidding process. The Administrator also disclosed that four stores operating at break-even levels, a status that the other two would attain by year-end.

January 2020: 92% of Nakumatt creditors voted on Tuesday January 7 to dissolve the supermarket chain. A liquidation plan was presented by Peter Kahi, the court-appointed administrator who said any further efforts would be very costly. The creditors are owned Ksh 38 billion and the administrators will share about KSh422 million received from the sale of six Nakumatt branches to Naivas. Diamond Trust Bank (DTB) KSh3.6 billion, KCB Group Ksh1.9 billion, Bank of Africa KSh328 million, UBA KSh126, Guaranty Trust Bank KSH104 million. Brookside Dairy Limited KSh457 million, Outstand Logistics Limited KSh415 million, Norkan Investments KSh338 million, New KCC KSh290 million, Redstar International KSh261 million. – Via Khusoko

Others: See also posts from when Nakumatt fought against tax evasion claims in June 2006 by releasing some never-seen financial numbers, and when an equity deal was formulated in November 2016.

Baraza Media Lab launch

This week saw the launch of the Baraza Media Lab in Nairobi as part of an initiative to foster more collaboration towards a better future for journalists and media to tell their stories.

The Baraza Lab is a $1 million investment that is supported by the Luminate Group which is a spinoff of the governance and citizen engagements funded by the Omidyar Network. Ory Okolloh, the Managing Director, Africa for Luminate said that different media organizations were dealing with their industry problems in their own silos. The new Baraza lab, which is being run in collaboration with Mettā Nairobi, is a place where like-minded creatives could meet, share, and collaborate on the future of media.

At the launch, it was said that no industry has been as disrupted by technology as much as the media, whose business models have been eroded by new advertising platforms. This is also a time when propaganda and fake news divides societies and where personalities had more followers than countries. Yet media remains a necessary arm of inclusive and democratic societies, and organizations such as AmaBhungane and Africa Uncensored were cited as two entities that had done a great deal to expose corruption issues in South Africa and Kenya, respectively.

Media coach and “recovering” journalist Uduak Amimo, who was the keynote speaker at the launch, spoke about the revelations and opportunities brought on by new media in the last few years. As an example of collaboration, she said that the data dumps by Wikileaks had not made much sense until the organization partnered with traditional media houses. But the opportunities for media had been hampered by a focus on profits over purpose, media that shared messages that they had not checked or analyzed, pay discrimination and tolerance of harassment among other factors.