corruptionwatch:WITH TAWANDA MAJONI
The Zanu PF government is taxing people dead on one hand, but is an artful dodger of tax on the other. That’s an insulting contradiction.
Months ago, Mthuli Ncube, the Finance minister, introduced a 2% tax on all money transactions. That’s in addition to a whole silo of other taxes people have been groaning under since Ian Smith gave up on his 1 000-year rule timeline.
It would seem like the government is genuine on raising revenue and getting the economy working. That appearance, though, dies the moment you learn that the ruling party is busy cheating, evading paying duty for imports.
Towards the 2018 general elections, Zanu PF crafted a nice-looking manifesto. Don’t bother about its promises to create employment, build more hospitals and bring down mountains to make rivers. We have been hearing that for decades. For the first time, in the wake of the 2017 coup, the ruling party was telling voters that it would be fighting corruption. That was a major highlight of the campaign manifesto.
They printed truckloads of the manifesto and dumped them in every corner of the country. But, as that was happening, little did we know that the very cars that were transporting the manifestoes were products of corruption.
Sometime in 2017, Zanu PF partnered with a local car dealer, Autoworld, to bring in more than 160 Isuzu D-Teq four wheelers from South Africa. The bakkies were brought under a report order. This is a facility whereby you can bring in your stuff and pay duty later, within a set time frame. It’s handily used for government and VIP purposes.
As the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) has acknowledged, this facility is abused quite often. What Zanu PF did was that, once the cars were in, it lost its memory on the need to pay duty. So, somehow, by hook and crook, it got the bakkies registered. Most of them were quickly decorated in party colours and deployed to the provinces to deliver the manifestoes, vote-buying grain and jobless youths. The chiefs also got their share and some went to the big guys in the party.
Someone close to President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the head of state was not aware of what was happening. That comes with a big pinch of coarse salt. If he didn’t know for sure, he should have done better. Because, you see, as the party leader, you can’t hang your legs out in the hammock as such a big fleet roars around. You must ask questions on the source of the cars.
But things get murkier than that. The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc), got onto the case with the assistance of other security arms. It seems that, originally, Zacc had been made to believe that former Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo was involved, so that was a chance to give him another day in the dock. That was because some of the cars ended up at Paza Buster, a commercial outfit that some chaps in intelligence thought belonged to Chombo, one of the “criminals” that used to surround the late Robert Mugabe who they pushed out in late 2017 with the benevolence of the army.
But once the picture became clearer and it was obvious that the people behind the tax evasion scam were criminals surrounding the current president, the centre loosened up and was steadily failing to hold. Questions were being asked and Zimra wanted its money. Autoworld too, for helping to procure the cars. So Zanu PF silently rushed to Zacc to tell the commission to drop the case and promised to pay the duty, almost two years after.
There lies the other major problem. Patrick Chinamasa, the Zanu PF finance secretary, met with the Zacc leadership and, before he slammed the door shut behind him, the investigating officers who were handling the case were told to go fishing. Nothing has been heard of the docket to date. Poor Zacc.
The new commission started with pomp and fanfare. It has been waving a set of new brooms in our faces and says it will shave the mountains just as Cyclone Idai did. But things on the ground are clearly different. The ruling elite is once again on the prowl, defining corruption for the commission and setting minimums on how high it must jump. In simple worlds, there is obvious evidence that the ruling party has already started manipulating the commission to its own advantage.
That’s a sad narrative, old as it is. It means we are moving round and round in circles. The new commission had raised so much hope to the fight against corruption. But this case of tax evasion by Zanu PF is solid proof that Zacc’s independence is already under threat. And when you threaten the independence of the commission, it becomes a constitutional matter. The constitution guarantees the independence of Zacc, so once someone tampers with that, that person is acting criminally.
It was bad enough to evade tax. It’s worse to violate the constitution. So the likes of Chinamasa, a lawyer in his own right, must remember this, because history may fail to be kind with him and his buddies.
It stops to make sense for Zanu PF to tell us that it’s so concerned about fighting corruption that it has established its own team to sniff out the rot within the party. You can’t be doing corruption and fighting corruption in the same place and at the same time. It’s an absurdity.
l Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org