Lifestyle audits unsettle ZIMRA workers

Source: Lifestyle audits unsettle ZIMRA workers | The Financial Gazette June 1, 2017

AN internal lifestyle audit on workers by the country’s tax collector, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA), has unsettled employees, who argue that the exercise is a violation of their privacy.
The workers told the Financial Gazette that the manner in which the exercise was being conducted interfered with their privacy because ZIMRA’s conditions of employment do not empower the organisation to conduct lifestyle audits.

The lifestyle audits include scrutiny of employees’ bank accounts and personal assets acquired between 2009 and 2016.

Since May last year, ZIMRA has been on a crusade to deal with corruption and fraud within its ranks, after suspending 15 top executives, including its former commissioner general, Gershem Pasi, for alleged corruption, fraud, poor corporate governance and tax evasion.

Pasi resigned from the organisation last week, saying he could not subject himself to a disciplinary process initiated by the ZIMRA board. He was facing more than 40 counts of misconduct.
ZIMRA believes that graft at the institution has prejudiced Treasury of more than US$20 million between 2009 and last year.

Some ZIMRA workers fear that they could be dismissed based on the audit findings, even if the acquisition of their assets was not linked to corruption.

The ZIMRA employees said the current exercise has the potential of being abused by management, whom they fear might use the audit to harass and unfairly dismiss targeted employees.
Zimbabwe Revenue Authority Trade Union’s secretary general, Lovemore Ngwarati, said workers would fight against violation of their privacy through the lifestyle audits.

“As employees, we will not be silent about this while the employer infringes on our rights. We are forced to begin to find several ways to circumvent the ongoing lifestyle audits as they do not have any sound justification,” said Ngwarati.

He said it was unfortunate that their employer had chosen to target low level employees yet the real perpetrators of corruption at the revenue authority were senior staff.
“The audits are not being conducted under a specifically set legal framework, so one wonders whose template and guidance is being used to determine the audits,” he said.
He said the ZIMRA board has failed to act on a forensic audit report that implicated several senior managers in acts of corruption.

Ngwarati said the audits have demoralised workers to the extent that ZIMRA could fail to meet its revenue targets.
ZIMRA board secretary and director for legal and corporate services, Florence Jambwa took exception at employees who resort to raising complaints through the media instead of utilising the internal grievance committee.

“We, therefore, encourage our members of staff to relay any issues which they may not be happy with to management using these formal channels for consideration to be given to them. Asset declarations and lifestyle audits on members of staff (who include both management and workers) are part of strategies that ZIMRA employs to curb corruption. Lifestyle audits are meant to identify any cases of unjust enrichment through corruption, which are appropriately dealt with in accordance with the Authority’s Code of Conduct and the laws of the land,” said Jambwa adding that the lifestyle audits are not targeted at any specific section of ZIMRA employees, but are a routine management tool which is used to flash out corrupt elements from ZIMRA.

A communiqué posted on ZIMRA’s website said the lifestyle audits were part of its initiatives to improve tax compliance and to assist taxpayers with information on tax matters.
The audits are carried out to verify compliance of individual taxpayers in terms of the statutes administered by ZIMRA, which include Income Tax Act, Capital Gains Act, Value Added Tax Act, and Customs and Excise Act.

A lifestyle audit involves verification of a person’s personal expenditure patterns to determine if it is consistent with his or her declared taxable income.
Any variances noted result in an amendment to the declared income and recovery of any additional tax.
The audits are carried out to assess and collect additional revenue, educate clients on how to correctly declare their income and make self-assessment of their tax status in terms of the law, promote compliance and update clients’ tax affairs.

In support of the audits, ZIMRA chairperson, Willia Bonyongwe, recently said that corruption by ZIMRA workers was costing government.

“The authority embarked on extensive lifestyle audits on selected individuals in an effort to evaluate their compliance. Debt follow-ups are being vigorously pursued. During the next quarter, lifestyle audits will be focused on ZIMRA officers. Corruption by ZIMRA officers is costing government a lot of money and it is expected that regular staff audits and other measures to combat corruption will see this revenue head and others improving, other things remaining equal,” she said.

Economist, John Robertson, said while the lifestyle audits were a part of the solution to ending corruption, the exercise would be futile if it was not targeted at top government officials.
“There is need to break immunity privileges and include the high level government officials like ministers, army generals and connected individuals — who have accrued wealth which is higher than their salaries — in order to effectively plug corruption,” he said.

He noted that many people in the country were accruing wealth which is far higher than their incomes.
“Even people like prophets must also be brought to book because they are a part of the corruption web because they are in the habit of asking followers to put money in the hat for them to receive blessings,” he added.

One ZIMRA employee who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “Our employer has tasked some agents to trace all the transactions that were conducted through our bank accounts. The challenge is that in some instances answers for transactions that were conducted as far back as five to 10 years are being demanded.”

Another employee said clarification of the value for the properties, which they possess was also being sought. She alleged that ZIMRA was verifying documents through the Deeds Office.
“What boggles the mind is that the ongoing audits are then not proving the link between the properties acquired and the corruption allegations,” said one employee.
Many ZIMRA employees said the audits were baseless because most people had various sources of income, which had enabled them to acquire properties.