It is hilarious and humorous that the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) motto is: “here to serve.” First and foremost their client charter on service delivery has some interesting commitments from the taxman which are worthy of special mention:
- Answer the telephone promptly and courteously: I have been to their offices numerous times and have seen officers flatly ignoring calls.
- Acknowledge all correspondence within 48 hours and respond in 14 working days: this is a fallacy to say the least. You will be a very lucky fella if your papers are responded to that promptly.
- Upon meeting requirements for customs, commercial consignments will be cleared within three working hours from the submission of correct and complete documentation unless selected for physical examination: ask any car importer they will tell you the number of days it takes to clear a car, unless you know the right people.
- A bus load with bona-fide travelers will be cleared within an hour: this is impossible, it will snow that day. To clear a typical travelers’ rebate queue at Beitbridge border post you will need at least 4 good hours on any given day.
- Physical examination of road, air and containerised cargo will be done within 48 hours: ask drivers of haulage trucks “gonyeti” how many days some have taken holed up at the borders.
I think that the client charter needs a couple of material changes, wouldn’t you agree? The problem is not the officers on the ground, the source of the problem emanates from the management and the “chefs” at the helm. Officers are taught to literally smell blood as opposed to treating taxpayers as bona-fide clients. Such statements like: “we never know maybe you are hiding income” show the bloodhound mentality behind ZIMRA. ZIMRA are used to using an intimidating tone but taxpayers should always be treated with uttermost respect and asked for documents politely and exerted with respectful pressure.
In any other private service driven institution (such as audit, advertising, consultancy etc), clients are treated as if they are gold, but with integrity and in a manner which the firm will not lose their objectivity and impair their independence. Clearly ZIMRA needs Client Care 101 from private sector firms. They forget that taxpayers generate the money for the fiscus that also pays their salaries. In my consultancy business, I recently had a nasty experience with one ZIMRA Officer who telephoned a client and threatened to garnish the client’s account due to an “alleged” late payment of payroll tax by one week. One week! Honestly guys. Without getting any explanation from the client she had already put a 100% penalty on the client account. She never took the time to understand why the client had delayed to pay given that the client has been a religious taxpayer for the past 16 years. This business of threatening registered taxpayers is utter nonsense. It has gone too far; they are killing the goose that lays the golden egg. They need to do exercises of understanding the businesses of their clients and how the comatose economy is affecting everyone in it.
It seems as if ZIMRA is pushing businesses into the corporate dustbin. Why is the emphasis on the compliant clients that are consistently paying whilst ignoring the “tenderpreneurs” who appear when there are tenders, earn millions and disappear. The outrageous assessments that are made leave many business owners with no option than to dump their businesses. It’s also surprising that recently they are now refusing set-offs where a taxpayer is owed money by a government body or another parastatal. Most taxpayers are accruing huge Pay As You Earn (PAYE) and Valued Added Tax (VAT) as a result of not being paid by numerous government bodies and parastatals.
ZIMRA must train its officers that instead of viewing taxpayers as money making machines simply there to be squeezed of every dollar that belongs to ceasar; they must also work with clients to structure the best possible way that they can be tax compliant and still have a viable business to run which will continue contributing employment and taxes to the nation. Their recent policies of 100% penalty on late payments, $30 daily fines for late submission of returns must be abolished altogether. Why is it there is a penalty for doing wrong but no incentive doing right? Why are there no discounts and tax credits given for early compliance like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) do in the USA. Garnishing of accounts must only be resorted to as a last resort after all measures including engagement of clients has been exhausted.
Or maybe it’s our fault as the public for not bringing to account our legislators for giving lip service to us. They promise that they will pass laws that serve our interests or repeal laws that are not favourable to industry but to no avail.