FZ: There have been several reports in the media on “inhuman body searches” at points of entry. What is your comment on this?
GP: I have not received a single report on what is being referred to as “inhumane body searches”.
FZ: What were the implications of the amendments to the Customs Act which necessitated these searches?
GP: The amendments had removed clothing and shoes among other items from the travellers rebate. The US$300 limit under which those items could be accommodated was changed. So what the amendments had done by removing, especially clothing and shoes from the travellers rebate was to regard any such items as commercial importations.
FZ: But how did this affect your operations?
GP: From what I got from the nature of complaints and reports of harassment, it was evident that when people were found with undeclared shoes and pieces of clothing, some took offence after being exposed for not making a declaration. For instance, when we analysed data over a certain period of time at the airports, of those people whose goods were subjected to physical examination, about 57%, had not made proper declarations. Having encountered such a high rate of non-compliance, not increasing our samples for searches would have amounted to a dereliction of duty.
FZ: When these amendments were made, were you consulted as Zimra?
GP: One of my functions as a commission-general is to advise government on fiscal and other issues, and I would of course carry out my duty and advise, but it’s only advice.
FZ: So what is the current situation about the controversial amendments?
GP: Shoes and clothing have now been put back as allowable under the travellers rebate, which means that clients would no longer have to spend time queuing to pay very little amounts of duty.
FZ: The minister also introduced surcharge, is it still there?
GP: Surcharge has been removed on double-cabs, which was at 25% and on certain foodstuffs. It only remains on those second hand vehicles which are more than five years old.
FZ:There have been endless complaints of corruption at Zimra and points of entry. How are you dealing with this?
GP: There is resolve at the highest level to fight corruption. The public should not offer bribes. Where an officer asks for a bribe, they should immediately report them to us.
FZ: How have you dealt with drug-trafficking?
GP: When we seize suspicious items we take them to government laboratories for testing. One hopes that in the near future, as the economy picks up, we will have sufficient resources to have state-of-the-art laboratories. As an immediate initiative, we have linked up with the Air force of Zimbabwe to assist us train our officers and to help us establish a dog section. We bought pure breeds from South Africa.
FZ: Any major seizures of drugs so far?
GP: There have been a lot of seizures especially with marijuana. It usually happens as joint operations with the police.
FZ: There have been a lot of reports on smuggling of minerals. How are you dealing with that?
GP:We have the anti-smuggling unit in the police and they work very closely with our officers and we hold joint patrols.
FZ: Any major break-throughs and recoveries
GP: Yes, there have been major busts but we need to automate. Right now we rely on intelligence and observation by our officers. We need to have requisite equipment.
FZ: How much progress have you made with your automation project?
GP: Given the hardships that have hit the country and the myriad demands on government’s limited finances, it means that we have not moved with the speed that we would have wanted as far as automation is concerned. While the intention and the spirit is there in the budgetary allocation, the release thereof is governed by the inflows.
FZ: What are the advantages of using Asycuda World system you want to install?
GP: The beauty with Asycuda World is that it is now web-based. Asycuda World removes the interface between you and the clearing agent and a Zimra officer. It removes what we call grey income. There have been cases where clearing agents work in cahoots with Zimra officers to fleece the client. Asycuda World takes care of that. That is the automation we want that improves efficiency and at the same time removes the opportunities for rent-seeking.
FZ: So how much is required for that?
GP: Last year, we needed US$34 million and we put in a bid of about US$ 15 million last year and we were allocated US$1,2 million and again it was released in the last quota maybe because of the shortage of cash.
FZ: How far have you gone with fiscalisation project?
GP: With fiscalisation, there have been some challenges, initially with the suppliers. The major outcry has been that these gadgets are not cheap. Companies were struggling to recover from the economic meltdown, they were complaining that we could have timed it better at an opportune time. We also have technical challenges that the gadgets are not compatible with the companies’ accounting systems. From us at Zimra, we would need to have the same robust servers — imagine we will be linked to all the retailers on a real time basis.
FZ: How are you dealing with complaints by companies which are being penalised for non-compliance?
GP: We now have a law, which says that you must pay penalities for any day that you go on without putting those gadgets but we are aware of these issues, which need to be looked at. We have our technical team working with the ministry. The objective is not to penalise people but to facilitate for them so that we can have a successful implementation.
FZ: Turning to revenue collection, did you meet your target last year.
GP: In 2011, we surpassed our target by 5% or 6%. For this year the target is 3,256 billion and we are readying ourselves to meet that challenge.
FZ: Talking about taxation, isn’t our income tax levels too high?
GP: That is so. Unfortunately, when you have an economy that is not performing at full throttle or anyway near that you find that because of the demands for government funding you then find that the burden of taxation becomes much heavier for the limited taxpayers. One hopes that when the economy picks up, we will perhaps advise the minister to reduce the rates. Currently, those that earn 251-1000 it is 20%, 1001 to 2000 25%, 2001 to 5000 30% and above 10 000 45%. This is over and above 3% Aids levy.
FZ: We observed that there was an omission of the commissioner-general in an advert flighted last week on body searches. What was the reason?
GP: I did notice but I didn’t pay any attention to that. I assumed that it was a minor error. For me, my commissioner there is guided and given work by me. I didn’t read much into the absence of my name.
FZ: But how is your relationship with the Minister of Finance?
GP: He is my minister and revenue collection falls under his ministry. We give each other due respect that goes with the posts. I am a professional.
FZ: Any tensions with the minister?
GP: No problems. Really I think we communicate well. Mind you, the authority is not a department in the ministry. We are at arms length and we communicate on technical issues. We have a board and I respect that. Each person in government has their roles clearly defined.
FZ: There are reports that you are on your way out.
GP: I am also hearing of those reports. There are processes that are ongoing at the moment and I can’t comment any further than that.