Tax judiciary officers scarce in Zimbabwe

Source: Tax judiciary officers scarce in Zimbabwe – Sunday News  Jun 18, 2017

Leonard Ncube in Victoria Falls
ZIMBABWE is facing a shortage of specialist judicial officers with only one judge appointed to deal with tax cases, a situation that is causing a serious backlog.

Without giving statistics, Advocate Thembinkosi Mgwaliba, of the Advocate’s Chambers, told tax experts at a conference organised by Tax Matrix in Victoria Falls last week that the backlog of cases go as far back as 2006 because there was only one presiding judge.

The Tax Court is provided for through the law, one of them being the Income Tax Act (Chapter 23:06) which allows for a special court to hear appeals from taxpayers who feel that they have not been viewed fairly or feel they have been asked to pay more tax than is legally due or are aggrieved by a decision of the Commissioner of Taxes.

The specialist court is presided over by a judge, either a former judge of the High Court or Supreme Court or a person qualified to be appointed a judge of the High Court or Supreme Court and sits with assessors.

Justice Samuel Kudya is the lone judge for the special court, at a time when there are numerous cases involving corporate versus Zimra over the latter’s “punitive garnishes and raids” for outstanding taxes.

Adv Magwaliba said judgments being delivered currently, are those that could have been handed two years ago.
He was responding to concerns by tax experts that cases were taking unnecessarily too long to complete.

“Yes, there is reasonable degree of worry about the period which it is taking to deal with cases. Judgements have a two-year backlog and those being delivered now should have been handed in 2015. The tax court has one judge hence it is a complex court,” said Adv Magwaliba.

He expressed hope that new additional appointments will be made soon.

“We hope appointments will be made soon and an additional judge be assigned after some interviews for judges were held,” he said.

Adv Magwaliba said the Tax Court sits in three capacities with all instances dealt with by a single judge.

“The backlog arises from the fact that cases go back as far as six years. The court has power to deal with cases as old as 2006 and is manned by a serving judge who sits in three capacities.

“Everyone hopes this will change because the situation is much better now. Previously there was no tax judge and a High Court judge would preside over cases hence there were no resolutions or judgments being made. Before 2009 the court was not properly constituted as it is now when the current system was set up and there is a sitting judge to deal with tax cases,” added Adv Magwaliba.

The Tax Court sits in the High Court.

During deliberations at the conference, participants expressed concern over delays in dealing with cases as they also complained about Zimra’s heavy handedness at a time when business was generally low in the country.

They accused the tax collector of killing the goose that lays the egg.

Conference convener Dr Davison Todson Gomo said there was need to strike a balance as business was willing to engage Government in a productive manner.

“What’s important is the willingness in people to engage Government because there is a need to co-exist. No one is saying paying tax is wrong but the environment has changed and so must the law,” he said.