By Mthulisi Mathuthu
SW Radio Africa
15 July 2014
The rehabilitation of Harare’s Morton Jeffrey water treatment plant has been stalled after the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority withheld construction equipment at the Forbes Border Post.
State media reports said Zimra is holding the Harare City Council to ransom over a $42 million debt owed in taxes. While the equipment is exempted from paying duties the national tax collector wants the local authority to clear the debt in exchange for the release of the equipment.
A representative from the China Machinery Engineering Corporation, who are undertaking the rehabilitation of the waterworks, told the parliamentary committee on water that the seizure of the equipment could delay the completion of the project.
Zhang Xin said if the interception of the equipment continues they may have to stop further shipments. Zhang said there were also delays in the release of the money by the China EximBank who are the financiers of the $144 million project.
Harare’s water and treatment systems have been operating well below capacity due to antiquated equipment and there was hope that the rehabilitation exercise would significantly improve the situation.
Combined Harare Residents Association Executive Director Mfundo Mlilo said it was both ‘unfair’ and ‘inhuman’ for Zimra to sabotage a project that stood to benefits millions of residents. He added: ‘It is really bad for them to do that when they know that we have been facing serious water shortages and to the extent that some people in Mabvuku were recently diagnosed with waterborne diseases.’
Mlilo said Zimra’s actions also proved the lack of coordination between government departments and showed ‘policy inconsistency.’ He said: ‘ The government is busy telling us that they want to improve the economic situation and service delivery across the board but here is a key government department sabotaging that agenda.’
Zimra has over the past few years seen revenue collections dwindling due to company closures. This has forced the national tax collector to resort to desperate methods such as ambushing travelers and motorists on the highways forcing them to pay spot fines.
There have also been allegations of corruption at the national collector with reports that officials are pilfering the whistleblower fund, by secretly nominating their own whistleblowers with whom they share the award.
However the Harare City Council has also not been spared of corruption charges either with reports late last year that senior managers, including the Town Clerk, were earning ‘corrupt salaries’ that could pay almost the municipality’s entire workforce.