THE cash-strapped government’s decision to revise travellers’ rebate to US$200 from US$300 in a desperate attempt to boost its dry coffers is yet another example that President Robert Mugabe is increasingly abandoning the poor.
Through Statutory Instrument 148 of 2015 (Customs and Excise (General) (Amendment) Regulations, 2015 (No 80) issued by the Finance ministry, government also limited the rebate to pedestrians and travellers using private vehicles.
This means all travellers using cross-border transport such as trucks or buses with trailers, who in any case are the majority, no longer qualify for the rebate.
Prior to the changes, travellers enjoyed the rebate, whether using commercial transport, buses or cross-border transport.
The new regulations also state that third party transporters carrying goods of a commercial value will be cleared by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority under the commercial category, meaning transport operators, commonly known as omalayitsha, have been put in the commercial category.
The regulations will make the poor, already burdened by the country’s liquidity crunch, tighten their belts as government squeezes out the little remaining in their pockets.
With more than 80% of the population out of formal employment, most Zimbabweans have turned to the informal sector for survival, with the majority importing goods and clothes for resale.
But given that most cross-border traders do not own private vehicles, and rely heavily on buses and cross-border vehicles for their trade, the regulations have rendered tax rebates inaccessible to them, threatening their livelihoods.
It is common cause that government introduced the anti-poor decision largely because of its dwindling revenue base, which is making its operations difficult. Treasury’s failure to pay civil servants bonuses and its failure to pay their December salaries on time, bears testimony that government is limping.
But in its desperation, government has further sucked blood out of the needy, a development which has been on the increase over the years.
The regulations come at a time when government has proposed hefty traffic fines which the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said were “grossly unreasonable and do not serve the ends of justice”.
Other unpopular decisions made by government include increasing tollgate fees, while also not forgetting other heartless actions such as Operation Murambatsvina (clean out dirt), which displaced thousands of poor people from urban areas in 2005.
Indeed, the early euphoric years of Mugabe’s rule, which were characterised by substantial economic growth, as the government invested heavily in health, education and other social sectors, thanks to his socialist policies which pleased the poor, have gone. Instead of cushioning the vulnerable, Mugabe now believes the poor should sustain his government.