Harare pulls out all stops to halt Zimra garnish 

Source: Harare pulls out all stops to halt Zimra garnish – NewsDay Zimbabwe

BY Tinashe Kairiza

Harare town clerk Hosiah Chisango, who recently dramatically bounced back at Town House despite serving a suspension, is desperately seeking a relief order from Treasury to stop the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) from garnishing the local authority’s bank accounts over unpaid taxes amounting to $115 million (US$1,4 million).

The latest revelations, as indicated in documents seen by NewsDay yesterday, come at a time the embattled Chisango and other top Harare executives are implicated in a scandal in which the city unprocedurally awarded Eqstra Hardware and Electrical a $51 000 000 tender to procure 10 000 COVID-19 protective overalls.

According to a correspondence from Chisango to Finance secretary George Guvamatanga, the suspended town clerk appealed to Treasury to stop Zimra from garnishing the city’s accounts in a bid to recoup a $115 million debt.

Despite ongoing negotiations between council and Zimra for an amicable settlement of the debt, the taxman went ahead to garnish $89 012 344,01 from Harare’s accounts. This, according to the correspondence dated January 5, 2020, caused council to fail to deliver key services to the city’s three million residents.

It reads: “The City of Harare accounts were garnished by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) on December 24, 2020. All the 15 operational accounts are under the garnishee order, hence all revenue collected is being absorbed by Zimra.

“We owe Zimra $115 million. We had committed to pay ZW$200 000 per day, which we were honouring religiously. We had a misunderstanding with the revenue authority over these payments as they wanted the city to pay arrears and the current. In view of the above, we request for your assistance to facilitate the lifting of the garnishee order. The garnishee order has had profound effects on the operations of council. As at January 5, 2020,
$89 012 344,01 has been taken from council accounts by Zimra.”

The cash-strapped local authority, whose officials are plagued by criminal charges over illegal tender dealings and sale of residential stands, has, as a result of the garnishee order, been struggling to procure water treatment chemicals, fuel and consumables needed in the fight against COVID-19.

Harare requires at least US$3 million per month to import water treatment chemicals, mostly from neighbouring South Africa.

However, investigations conducted by our sister paper, Zimbabwe Independent in January 2020 show that the cocktail of water treatment chemicals imported for

US$3 million every month are not effective to flush out hazardous substances, including hepatotoxins and neurotoxins, putting at risk the lives of millions of residents.

Chisango’s letter to Guvamatanga, titled Request for Assistance in the Lifting of the Garnish of the City of Harare Accounts, further reads: “We had asked for a reprieve until the end of 2020 and had hoped that in January 2021, we would negotiate a new payment plan that encompasses the arrears and the current. We were, however, garnished before the engagement could reach the necessary conclusions.

“The impact of the garnish is that the city is now not able to fund service delivery. Since December 24, 2020, we have not been able to procure water treatment chemicals, fuel, hospital requirements and most importantly oxygen for critical COVID-19 patients. We are unable to provide service delivery and all our operations are crippled.”

At the time of going to print, Guvamatanga had not responded to whether he received Chisango’s letter, and how Treasury would address the city’s plea to stop Zimra’s garnishee order.

Following disclosure of the illegal $52 million tender awarded to Eqstra Hardware and Electrical by the Zimbabwe Independent, the matter has become the subject of investigation by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc).

Chisango, alongside council finance director Stanley Ndemera, and supply chain manager Never Murerwa allegedly acceded to a price variation of $5 521 (US$68) from $2 997 (US$37) per kit.

Eqstra Hardware and Electricals, owned by former council employee Albert Ndabambe, was not shortlisted among the entities vying for the lucrative tender, an internal memo gleaned by this publication shows.

If the murky tender had not been terminated after the irregularities emerged, the city could have been prejudiced of $19 720 000 (US$243 000).

The web of irregularities, which now entangles Chisango and other top officials, is contained in an audit report undertaken by audit manager Archibald Nyamurova.

Ironically, Chisango instigated the audit.

However, sources told NewsDay that Chisango only called for the audit after “he was tricked of his fair share of the filthy lucre by Eqstra Hardware and Electricals”.

Chisango, who also has an ongoing court case involving the illegal sale of stands in Kuwadzana, last week declined responding to questions posed by this publication.