Zimra boss pleads for immunity

Former Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) commissioner-general Gershem Pasi (pictured), who resigned this week amid 45 charges of misconduct, sought an exit package and immunity from prosecution before quitting.

Wongai Zhangazha

Suspended Zimra commissioner-general Gershem Pasi
Suspended Zimra commissioner-general Gershem Pasi

Zimra officials, however, declined to grant him an exit package, while also dismissing his plea for immunity from prosecution.

Documents seen by this newspaper this week indicate that Zimra bosses have told Pasi they will not drop charges as they are concerned about issues raised in an audit carried out by HLB Chartered Accountants.

The Zimra board sanctioned the probe in July last year after a whistle-blower’s report on irregularities in the importation of executive cars.

As first reported by the Zimbabwe Independent last year, the audit, released in September, exposed massive corruption, fraud, poor corporate governance and tax evasion scandals within the tax authority with revelations that the revenue collector was prejudiced of more than US$20 million.
Pasi was expected to answer to several charges of misconduct, which include the signing of a US$14 million contract with a company called AVIC International for the supply of uniforms and tollgate equipment, allegedly without following tender procedures.

He was also accused of allocating himself excessive vehicle allowances amounting to US$374 451 between 2014 and May 2016 without the approval of the board, among other charges.

The Zimra board dragged Pasi to a hearing, which began in November last year, with former High Court judge Justice Moses Chinhengo acting as the disciplinary hearing officer. Pasi was represented by Advocate Thabani Mpofu acting on instructions from Mambosasa Legal Practioners. Zimra was represented by Kantor and Immerman Legal Practitioners.

According to documents detailing the proceedings during the closed door hearing, Pasi on November 24 presented a proposal for settlement to the Zimra board and was awaiting a response.

On January 16, Mpofu advised during the hearing that he would put forward another proposal for settlement. However, no proposal was put forward and Pasi was served with a defence outline.

On March 6, Pasi tabled a proposal offering to resign in return for an exit package and immunity from prosecution by Zimra or the state.

“The employee presented a proposal which took the parties the whole day to deal with. The employee offered to resign in return to an exit package and immunity from prosecution by Zimra or the State,” reads one document.

“After lengthy discussions there was no agreement, as the employer was unwilling to pay an exit package, save for statutory benefits and also was unwilling to give him the immunity from prosecution that he wanted.”

On March 13, Pasi filed an application for review in the Labour Court, which was opposed by Zimra on March 16.

Hearing resumed on March 20 with Chinhengo directing that parties enter into a statement of agreed facts, a process that took two days to complete. The hearing was postponed to April 12 and on May 22 Pasi resigned.

Chinhengo, in a note written on May 22 to formally record the outcome of the disciplinary proceeding, said after Pasi tendered his resignation, “parties” rendered it unnecessary for the disciplinary proceedings to continue.

“The substantive hearing commenced on March 21 with the chairperson of Zimra Mrs Bonyongwe giving evidence for the employer. Before she finished testifying in chief, the parties agreed to prepare a statement of agreed facts with a view to expediting the proceedings,” reads Chinhengo’s note.

“They engaged in that exercise for almost two days at my offices after which they agreed that the matter be further postponed to give them an opportunity to finalise the statement of agreed facts.

Before the postponement, the parties advised me that the employer had dropped two charges and four of the charges had been collapsed into one charge. I postponed the hearing to April 12 2017 after an agreement that the agreed statement of facts would be filed with me by March 31 2017.”

Chinhengo said on April 12, the hearing was again postponed to May 22 because Pasi’s legal representative was ill and could not conduct the case on that day.

“On May 22 2017, the hearing convened and the parties advised that Mr Pasi would tender his resignation by midday on that day and that the employer was prepared to have the disciplinary proceedings terminated upon receipt of the letter of resignation,” Chinhengo wrote.

In his resignation letter, Pasi said: “My employer has without just or lawful cause preferred unfounded charges against me. The charges ring hollow, being based as they are, upon an incompetent audit report prepared by auditors who abdicated their most basic functions and responsibilities. I wish to reiterate and make it abundantly clear that I have committed no misconduct, either of the nature alleged or at all.”

However, in response to Pasi’s resignation letter, Bonyongwe said while the board accepted his decision, it did not agree with some of the issues he raised.

“In passing, we confirm that the High Court per the judgement of honourable Makoni J in (HC10821/16, Judgment No HH 759-16), not only approved the disciplinary proceedings, but also expressed a view that a prima facie case existed. Accordingly, the board does not accept the sentiments expressed on page one of your letter,” reads Bonyongwe’s letter.

In her judgement in December last year, Justice Lavender Makoni found Pasi’s suspension and charges levelled against him as lawful.

“I therefore find that the suspension and charges levelled against the applicant (Pasi) are lawful. In that event, the applicant is not about to be subjected, by the respondents (Zimra), to a patently unlawful process as he avers,” reads Makoni’s judgment.