'Zimra car importers crackdown illegal'

HARARE - Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra)’s recently-launched crackdown on car importers is illegal and exposes the tax collector to litigation, constitutional law experts said.

Last week, Zimra announced that it was probing vehicles imported into Zimbabwe between January 2014 and June 2016 in accordance with provisions of the Customs and Excise Act (Chapter 23:02).

The revenue authority — facing dwindling collections on the back of subdued economic activity — said the move was meant to verify whether the vehicles were properly cleared.

However, the move “is very much illegal and unconstitutional”, constitutional law guru Lovemore Madhuku told the Daily News on Sunday.

“Look, this is totally illegal. They cannot harass the public so that they can deal with their own mess,” he said, adding that “every Zimbabwean is entitled to what is referred to by the Constitution as “inherent dignity” which must be protected by government.

Madhuku argued that the vehicles Zimra intends to re-check “passed through the borders and were cleared by them”.

“Whoever cleared those vehicles was doing so in their capacity as a Zimra employee representing government,” he said.

“When an employee acts on something representing a given organisation, the organisation is bound to stick to their employee’s actions, because regardless of the fact that an employee is not acting on instruction, they are still representing the given organisation,” Madhuku said.

In conducting the probe, Zimra requested owners of motor vehicles imported within the specified period to approach them and get confirmation of proper clearance.

If importation paperwork is not in order, Zimra said the car importers would have to regularise in accordance with applicable laws.

But Madhuku said “by summoning vehicle owners to approach them, the tax collecting agency was acting unconstitutionally and any citizen could sue”.

“Unless they can point out to anything in the Constitution that specifies that they can act like that when they make a mistake or are unsure, any citizen can take them to court and say they do not want to comply with the Zimra directive,” he said.

Former Finance minister and Mavambo\Kusile\Dawn president Simba Makoni added that Zimra could not summon the vehicle owners after initially clearing them, “unless it has a specific provision that allows them to act like that in the event of an error”.

“... if they have failed they must not go around harassing citizens for it. They slept on the job and must face the consequences and not harass the public,” he said.

Another constitutional lawyer who spoke on condition of anonymity said any affected car importer could drag the taxman to court over the matter.

“The error was done on their part (Zimra), so the citizens have a right to reject the directive because by clearing at the border and registering their vehicle according to the rule of law they are well within the country’s laws,” the lawyer said.

The car imports blitz comes as Zimra recently suspended top management, including commissioner general Gershem Pasi, over undervaluation of car import, among other issues.

The tax collector missed its $861,6 million first quarter revenue target, only managing to collect 84,1 percent.

Upon the suspensions, Zimra chairperson Willia Bonyongwe said “the... board has become aware that questions have been raised and indeed criminal proceedings instituted pertaining to the importation of vehicles by some Zimra employees.”

Motorists who spoke to the Daily News on Sunday vowed that they were not going to get their car documents examined.

“When I went to get my car from Tanzania, I spent three days at the border trying to clear my car. Vakuda kunonditsvagira mhosva (They want to charge me for nothing). I am not going, as far as I know I got my car registered properly and according to the country’s laws. If my car did not have plates I would be bothered to go, as it stands I am not wasting my time,” said Kudakwashe Chitemere, a Harare-based motorist.

The calls by Zimra to re-inspect imported vehicles come after acting commissioner general Happias Kuzvinzwa recently announced the tax agency was moving to start criminalising tax defaulters on the back of ballooning defaults.

In 2015, Zimra granted a tax amnesty to defaulters but cash-strapped corporates did not yield to the taxman’s call, with Pasi admitting the uptake had been “disappointingly low.”

But according to Kuzvinzwa, while the taxman-granted amnesty period lapsed in March, Zimra still wanted tax defaulters to negotiate for payment plans so that obligations could be met.

The Zimra-granted tax amnesty on defaulters expired in the first quarter.

Vehicle import duty has emerged as Zimra’s best performing revenue head as Zimbabweans have resorted to importing second-hand vehicles, mainly from Japan since the introduction of the multiple currency system in 2009 given they are cheaper than those assembled locally.

However, there have been persistent calls by local car manufactures to ban used car imports, which they say have contributed to the demise of the local car industry.

Industry minister Mike Bimha is on record blaming the woes of struggling car assembler Willowvale Mazda Motor Industries and Quest Motors on the hugely-popular and affordable used-car imports.

Comments (4)

I wonder whether there is any law in this country which says so. We bought cars in Japan we were told the whole process and we complied with what was put in place and to their then requirement we met all and finalised the whole process. Now you want us to do what else as we were certified with all requirements you laid down. I say to Zimra do what ever you think can give you money but that money will not last for ever then what will be next??????????

Jabulani Innocent Makuyana - 1 August 2016

That is nonsese. I complied with all the requirements when I imported my car. I totally agree with Madhuku, whoever cleared my vehicle was acting on behalf of Zimra so why should they come after me for mistakes made by their officers?

Tadisa - 1 August 2016

motor vehicles weather new or second hand should be affordable to everyone.why authorities especially zimra/min of industry & commerce not happy that many Zimbabweans now own cars and contributing more revenue to the government by paying licence fees,toll gate fees and permit fees.if they want the local motor industry in this current situation they should allow the companies to import the new car components duty/tax free and they sell the vehicles on zero deposit as RSA and some other countries are doing.Who would not want to own a new car(kuibvisa wega mu plasitic) -munhu wese anozvida.People would stop on their own to import second hand vehicles not to force us not to second hand.Because of restrictions to import vehicles in the past willowvale scandal yakaveko ikauraisa vana Nyagumbo.We do not want more scandals and deaths due to car import restrictions.

mmm - 17 August 2016

we wl not stop importing vehicles

godfrey chizenga - 23 August 2016

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