By Blessings Mashaya
Acting President Emmerson Mnangagwa ducked a tricky question in the National Assembly on Wednesday which had the potential to aggravate his fallout with First Lady Grace Mugabe, currently in New York, accompanying her husband to the United Nations General Assembly.
Mnangagwa, who has been the target of the first lady’s vicious attacks over his perceived ambitions to succeed President Robert Mugabe, was mid this week asked if Grace was not contradicting the law on second-hand clothing by donating the same.
The vice president had initially fumbled through the confusing question from Mutasa Central MDC Member of Parliament, Trevor Saruwaka, before conceding that he was unsure “whether I heard your question properly”.
This led Saruwaka to become more direct and daring.
He asked: “let me clarify the question. Acting President….my question is; there is a law which was brought in here by Honourable (Patrick) Chinamasa in terms of banning second-hand clothes in line with protecting the local industry so that children here get jobs, but now the first lady is giving people second-hand clothes at State House. Is it not contradicting the law of banning of second-hand clothes?”
Mnangagwa ducked the question by directing it to Finance minister Chinamasa and Industry and Commerce deputy minister, Chiratidzo Mabuwa.
He said: “I think it is clear. I thought you were just asking whether we have that law in place. I was not given anything so I did not know. I can ask from other hon ministers here, Hon Chinamasa, Hon Mabuwa to assist me in explaining the issues. All the people that you mentioned are here, so I think the law, as I have articulated, still stands.”
On the advice of deputy speaker of Parliament, Mabel Chinomona, the MDC legislator had to redirect his question to Chinamasa, who also declined to be drawn into commenting on allegations concerning the first lady.
Grace has previously been accused of confiscating bales of second-hand clothing and giving them to Zanu PF supporters. In 2015 she reportedly told supporters at a Zanu PF women’s league rally in Zvimba that Zimra and council had allowed her to donate bales of second-hand clothing that were confiscated at border posts to her supporters.
The Finance minister, who has oversight over the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra), said government does not prohibit second-hand clothes from entering the country’s borders. In order to protect local industries, Zimra was charging heavy duties on imported second-hand clothing.
There are people, nonetheless, who are smuggling second-hand clothing into Zimbabwe. And whenever they are intercepted by Zimra or the law enforcement agencies, the cargo gets confiscated.
“That is the position I know. The other aspect, I am not privy to the issues,” said the Finance minister.
Attempts by Zengeza West MDC MP Simon Chidhakwa to press for direct responses from the acting president and Chinamasa were quashed by Chinomona, who came to their rescue.
The deputy speaker, who was recently demoted from the Zanu PF women’s league by Grace, refused to entertain new questions, saying “that is a new question, members that is the duty of the chair. The question which has been asked by Chidhakwa is not from the original question because the question asked was, ‘is it now allowed?’ It is now different. We do not want to be diverted.”
Lawmakers who spoke to the Daily News said no one wants to be in the first lady’s firing line any more.
Ever since she burst into the political ring in 2014, the first lady has demonstrated that she takes no prisoners and gives no quarter.
She started the political tide that swept away former vice president Joice Mujuru from office, along with her sympathisers.
Recently, she has been uprooting Mnangagwa’s support base, dealing a body blow to his allies — among them Energy Mutodi, Christopher Mutsvangwa and many more.
On several occasions, the first lady has handed out an assortment of goods whenever she visits the countryside to address ruling party supporter, in her capacity as leader of the Zanu PF women’s league.
While her donations have been welcomed by their receivers, they have attracted scorn among critics who allege President Robert Mugabe’s wife could be commandeering Zimra into releasing to her goods confiscated by the revenue-collecting agency for varying reasons.
In February, as she made her much-anticipated return to the rally circuit, left the nation guessing as to the source of her donated goods.
She told Zanu PF supporters in Buhera North that there were people who felt threatened when she comes down to meet the people.
“They have been writing letters all over to say don’t give her resources, including those that are confiscated at the border, which I give to our people,” she said.
At another rally at St John’s Primary School in Buhera, she donated 20 000 bars of soap, 20 000 pairs of shoes, 20 000 litres of cooking oil, 10 000kg of washing powder, 5 000 tablets of bath soap and 50 tonnes of clothes.
Grace said as a mother, she could not visit villagers empty-handed.
Since her dramatic entry into politics, Grace has been making huge donations to Zanu PF supporters — including cooking oil, washing soap, tablets of bath soap, washing powder, boxes of new clothing, school bags, hand bags, pairs of shoes and even suits for chiefs and blankets.
This also comes as government last year issued restrictive measures on imports of basic products including bottled water, furniture, building materials, steel products, cereals, potato crisps and dairy products, most of which arrive via South Africa.
Zimra has declined to respond directly to claims that the first lady is accessing goods confiscated by the revenue collecting agency.
The authority told the Daily News recently that illicit goods seized from people crossing the border were held in a warehouse before being auctioned off or given out at the discretion of the State.
Zimra’s board secretary and director for legal and corporate services Florence Jambwa said in recent e-mailed statement: “Goods declared forfeited become State property and their appropriation is done at the discretion of the State.”
The statement was silent on a specific question how much Grace was getting in terms of items confiscated from the border.
Jambwa referred to Section 38 of the Customs and Excise Act, which stipulates that “no goods shall be imported into Zimbabwe without entry being made and without duty being paid or secured”.
“Where the importer fails to pay duty or to produce the requisite import permits, the goods are detained by Zimra in a State warehouse to secure the duty and for safe keeping until payment of the duty due or production of the relevant permit,” Jambwa told the Daily News.
“The goods are put in a State warehouse where rent will accrue based on stipulated rates in terms of Section 172 of the Customs and Excise (General) Regulations, Statutory Instrument 154 of 2001. The importer will be issued with a Receipt for Items Held (RIH) as a record that Zimra has detained the goods.
“Goods detained on RIH shall be held for a period of 60 days provided that they are not perishable, after which – in the event that the duty is not paid – they shall be disposed of through a public auction in terms of Section 39(2) of the Customs and Excise Act [Chapter 23:02] or, where the goods are of no commercial value, the goods may be sold out of hand.
“Where the goods are sold through a public auction, it is for the purpose of recovering duty and State warehouse rent due for the goods.”
She said customs offences include false declaration, or importation of prohibited goods or smuggling, among others.
Asked what happens in the event the owner of the goods confiscated pays any applicable duty and appeals for the release of goods, Jambwa said the importer may use the Notice of Seizure issued to make written representations to acting commissioner-general Happias Kuzvinzwa for the possible release of the goods within 90 days.
“Where written representations are made within 90 days, the commissioner-general may either release the goods by setting conditions of the release, which include payment of full duty, storage charges, fines, any other incidental charges and timeframe in which to meet the set release conditions; or declare the goods to be forfeited to the State,” Jambwa said.
“Where a client fails to meet the timeframe or does not request for any extension for consideration, it shall be deemed that the client is no longer interested in the goods and such goods shall be declared forfeited to the State.
“Where written representations are not made within 90 days, the seized goods shall be sold, destroyed declared forfeited to the State,” she said. Daily News