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Vehicle smuggling on the rise

THE Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) has impounded hundreds of vehicles in a blitz to flush out cars that have been smuggled into the country.

BY TARISAI MANDIZHA

The blitz followed an announcement by Zimra commissioner-general Gershem Pasi that many vehicles were being corruptly brought into the country, evading tax in the process.

Zimra board secretary and director legal and corporate services, Florence Jambwa told Standardbusiness last week that many vehicles had been impounded and offenders penalised.

“Several motor vehicles were and are still being impounded and the offenders are penalised in accordance with the laws of the land. I am, however, unable to give you statistics as this is an ongoing exercise,” she said.

Jambwa said the underhand dealings meant that the smuggled vehicles did not pass through the system and therefore it was difficult to calculate how much revenue had been lost through these malpractices.

She, however, said Zimra had since put in place measures to curb smuggling, which included roadblocks, border patrols, physical examinations, goods scanning and post clearance checks audits, among other initiatives.

According to Zimra, 24 967 private vehicles had been imported into the country in the period between January and June 2015, as compared to 29 978 in the same period last year.

In the period under review, 10 289 commercial vehicles have been imported as compared to 8 597 in 2014.

The Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara) said its systems could not detect if a vehicle had paid or evaded customs duty.

Zinara board chairperson Albert Mugabe said the Zinara vehicle licensing system was only able to license a vehicle with a number plate and a registration book. He said the Zinara system could, however, detect dual registration where two vehicles shared the same registration number.

“Our mandate of vehicle licensing begins when a vehicle has been registered with the Central Vehicle Registry and has a number plate and a registration book,” Mugabe said.

He said Zinara did not impound vehicles for evading duty as this was outside their mandate. However, he said the authority had made positive initiatives to ensure maximum collection of vehicle licensing revenue.

“We embarked on a vehicle licensing blitz nationwide aimed at encouraging licensing defaulters to be compliant. To this extent, our computerised vehicle database has increased to 675 000 and about 70% of these vehicles in our system are licensed and compliant,” he said.

In the period January to June 2015, Zinara recorded a 25% increase in revenue collection — from $22,7 million licensing fees collected last year to $29,2 million.

Tax and customs director at Tax Management Services, Trust Mawere, said there were too many stakeholders involved in vehicle licensing such as Zinara, Zimra, Central Vehicle Registration (CVR) and local authorities.
He said while the decentralisation had brought convenience and public good in terms of accessibility, it had created problems of controls, thereby creating opportunities for the unscrupulous corrupt office bearers in the various stakeholders’ offices.

He said CVR needed to clean up their act and come up with one motor registration agent, preferrably Zimra, which would become the only party answerable and responsible, Mawere said.

“Zinara’s term registration data base should pick registration master data from either Zimra or CVR so that vehicles with fake registrations can also be picked from Zinara at the time of vehicle licencing. Right now the Zinara data base identifies vehicles with registration numbers only, they don’t have names attached to the registration numbers,” he said.

Mawere said the change of number plates when the vehicle changes ownership was not only an unnecessary waste of national resources, but also created a lush ground for irregular registrations.

He said it left the system littered with discarded number plates, most of which were then recycled and used in irregular registrations by the corrupt parties.
“Through outdoor enforcement activities, using their Systems Applications Products programme, Zimra have the capacity to crack the whip on fraudulently registered motor vehicles as they can track an imported motor vehicle’s history from the point of entry using the Chassis number as the search terms,” Mawere said.
He said it would serve everyone well if the whole registration process was to be facilitated and completed at the points of entry, saving citizens the hassle of negotiation through various offices to register a car.
“Deferred clearances or clearances into bonded warehouses of used motor vehicles must be curtailed or banned as it widens Zimra burden of control. A considerable number of vehicles with fake registrations have passed through the bonded warehouses,” Mawere said.

“Some unscrupulous bonded warehouse operators would release some of the vehicles from bond before duty is accounted for. Some may be left to continue appearing in bond registers while in reality they are already hitting the tarmac under cover of fake registration details,” he said.

Tafadzwa Chikumbu, policy officer for governance at the African Forum and Network on Debt and Development, said government needed to do more to improve its monitoring of car imports to ensure all tax duties were paid.

“The main recommendation for abating smuggling is for Zimbabwe [as a destination country] to enter into bilateral arrangements with source countries to ensure that there is exchange of information or intelligence and mutual assistance. This would allow for comparisons of imports and exports between the source and destination countries with a view to unearth unrecorded vehicles into Zimbabwe,” he said.

“Strengthening border controls, in particular post importation audits, should be conducted by both the police and Zimra simultaneously, unlike the current scenario where the audits are done independent of each other.”

Chikumbu said there was need for increased coordination among institutions dealing with anti- money laundering in the country and Zimbabwe being a member to the Eastern and Southern Africa “Anti-Money” Laundering Group, should learn from best practices in member countries.

He said smuggling in general was often in the forms of false declaration or misclassification, undervaluation, non-declaration, abuse of exemption provisions for returning residents’ rebates, diversion of transit vehicles and use of fraudulent documents, among others. This, Chikumbu said, led to either tax avoidance or evasion, hence lost public revenue.

Chikumbu said the decision to carry all transit vehicles on courier was a step towards redressing the diversion of transit vehicles.

He said smuggling of motor vehicles normally involved individuals, revenue authorities and organised criminal syndicates. Corruption, he said, resulted from collusion between the perpetrators and the responsible authority, adding that smuggling involved source and destination country transactions.

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