Africa Moyo Senior Business Reporter
Government is considering giving the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) absolute powers to descend heavily on tax dodging companies so as to recover the outstanding $4,5 billion. Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube, said this on Wednesday night in Harare during the Zimra Appreciation Awards Dinner.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa was guest of honour during the awards dinner.
Prof Ncube said tax avoidance by companies has compelled Government to issue Treasury Bills and borrowing to finance budget deficit.
He said Government was alive to the challenges faced by companies due to the depressed environment they are operating under, but called on them to honour their tax obligations.
“ . . . those businesses and taxpayers who know they have a share of the $4,5 billion tax debt owed to Zimra, I wish to make this unequivocally clear that you need to own up, come forward and pay your tax debt,” said Prof Ncube.
“Collecting PAYE (pay as you earn), VAT (value added tax) and other withholding taxes on behalf of Government and converting it to your own use breaks the law and sabotages our desire to achieve fiscal equilibrium. I will ask Zimra to adopt more aggressive measures to recover the debts.”
Recently, Zimra Commissioner General Ms Faith Mazani, said the national tax collector was unable to meaningfully collect revenue due to the absence of instruments that compel taxpayers to honour their obligations.
Zimra has only resorted to garnishing accounts of defaulting taxpayers and imposing hefty penalties, but cannot do anything if the defaulters close their accounts.
Statutory Instrument 97 of 2013 on Revenue Authority (Civil Penalty for Late Submission of Returns) Regulations, 2013, provides for penalties to be charged on defaulting taxpayers.
Currently, Zimra is inviting companies that are not tax compliant to take advantage of the “voluntary disclosure” window and regularise their operations on a “no questions asked” basis.
Companies and individuals that continue to operate outside the tax net by December 31 will be dealt with.
Prof Ncube said as the country has been opened for business, success depends “on a unified and patriotic” approach to challenges.
“Together we are the success we wish to see and attain,” said Prof Ncube, adding that Government was thankful for companies’ resilience y with their tax obligations.
“As our Government remains committed to creating an environment conducive for business, we expect you as business to continue to work closely with Government to help recover the economy and create a mutually beneficial and sustainable economy.
“Please refrain from complaining behind closed doors about policies in your ‘own circles’, come forward with suggestions that we can explore for the benefit of our great nation. Our doors are open,” said Prof Ncube.
Timeous payment of duty is seen as a key imperator in the economy’s growth trajectory and the realisation of an upper middle income economy by 2030. Finance and Economic Development Ministry Permanent Secretary Mr George Guvamatanga, who also attended the Zimra Appreciation Awards Dinner challenged businesspeople to honour their tax dues.
Mr Guvamatanga added that given the pressure being piled on the tax collector by Government, Zimra shall soon crack whip on defiant companies.
“Let me also take this opportunity to emphasise on the need for one of us here, the businesses represented here and those that are not represented here, to self-introspect and check whether we have our names written in the books of Zimra.
“ . . . in my first month in office, I have actually discovered that my colleagues in industry don’t pay their taxes, some of them. When I meet my colleagues from industry, the first question you ask me is ‘why are you borrowing’? ‘Why are you issuing Treasury Bills’?
“ . . . we are borrowing and issuing Treasury Bills to fund the $4,5 billion that some of your colleagues have not remitted to Zimra,” said Mr Guvamatanga.
He said he has held “very serious” conversations with Ms Mazani concerning how much of the debt she collects daily, to the extent that “sooner than later, she will get tired of being asked that question and she would be asking you (companies) that question”.
Mr Guvamatanga said there was no greater level of accountability and commitment to building the country than by paying taxes. In June, Ms Mazani told our sister paper The Sunday Mail that the bulk of the $4,5 billion debt emanates from penalties charged on defaulting taxpayers.
As at May 31, 2018, Zimra was owed just over $4,3 billion; with the principal being $2,2 billion; penalties were just over $981 million while interest was $1,18 billion.