Saturday, January 28, 2012

Finance minister Tendai Biti has been forced to take steps to slash the shock 25 percent hike of surtax on imports of food and other basics.

Biti admitted at a news conference in Harare yesterday that he had come

under withering pressure from “various stakeholders” after publication of

the new import tariff regime in the January 14 edition of the Daily News.

The new tax regime came into force on January 1, 2012.

The 25 percent surtax was imposed across the entire range of goods from

basics to luxuries, with the new import regime affecting almost everything

from second-hand vehicles to food, even beer and cigarettes.

The new duty regime was announced in the 2012 national budget presented by

Biti to Parliament in November last year as a measure to support increased

domestic production and level the playing field with regards to some of the

imported commodities.

When the new tariff regime was gazetted last week by the Zimbabwe Revenue

Authority, they torched a storm, which has forced the minister into a

dramatic climb-down.

“Concerns have been raised by stakeholders over some of the tariff measures

government implemented from the 1st of January 2012,” Biti told reporters


“Here there are two things. First is the expanse of those tariffs, the

expanse of the goods that are affected by those tariffs, there have been

concerns about those.”

The 25 percent surtax covers literally everything from beauty products to

electrical household appliances such as refrigerators, ovens, cookers and

other reception apparatus for TVs.

The surtax more importantly affects a wide array of basic foodstuffs such as

fresh as well as frozen whole chickens, frozen cuts and offal, milk and

cream, yoghurt, fermented milk, buttermilk, cheese, bird’s eggs, potatoes,

tomatoes, onions and shallots, garlic, carrots and turnips, mixtures of

vegetables, peas, beans, sausages, uncooked pasta, jams, fruit jellies,

marmalades, soup and broth preparations, sweet biscuits, tomato ketchup and

other tomato sauces.

The new regime also affected alcoholic beverages such as malt beer, wine,

ciders, brandy, whiskey, vodka, spirits as well as Virginia flue-cured

tobacco and burley tobacco.

Biti said he had taken heed of concerns from economists and other

stakeholders that the hike will trigger a massive inflation surge and that

it could ignite shortages of basics given depressed local supply side


“We have listened to the way they are affecting basic commodities and so

forth,” Biti said.

The tough-talking minister blasted the manner in which the new tariff

measures were being implemented by tax collector Zimra.

“We have women being asked to put on new shoes, bags being opened (at the

border) and so forth. We don’t accept that, it is not the law,” Biti said.

“Public servants, parastatals, have got a duty to respect the public; they

have got a duty to respect citizens of this country. We will not accept


The inhuman treatment of travellers by Zimra officials at several border

posts including Harare International Airport was exposed by the Daily News

through a series of articles.

Biti admitted there was overwhelming national condemnation of the 25 percent

hike in surtax of second-hand cars and basics.

“Given the huge representations that have been made to us as a ministry, we

have embarked on the process of stakeholder consultation so that we review

or adjust those statutory instruments, the appropriate measures to review,

and some of the measures therefore will be instituted in the next few weeks

or few days if we are lucky,” Biti said.

“But I want to appeal to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, I want to appeal to

all government bodies that provides services to the people whether it’s the

passport office, whether it’s the death certificate office, whether its VAT,

the government is there to serve the public, public servants are there to

serve and not to be islands of fascism where we harass people and so forth.

“So we don’t accept what certain officials at the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority

have been doing.”

Biti said he had received several complaints from trans-border traders and

other stakeholders of intrusive searches and other bizarre methods of

enforcing his new regulations at the border.

“That is not the policy of this ministry, that is not the policy of this

government,” he said. “The long and short of it is that we will review and

adjust following a process of consultation. We will make announcements

through the relevant statutory instrument.”

Biti has also introduced a controversial ban of imports of second-hand

underwear that has also attracted massive criticism.

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