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Biti says Minister Ncube cannot unilaterally turn ZIMRA into Port Authority

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube has been accused of imposing some provisions in the Finance Amendment Bill without consulting relevant Ministries and the public at large.

Ncube, on Tuesday, presided over the second reading of the Finame Bill. The bill seeks to improve taxation systems, curtail illicit financial flows and strengthen finance institutions like the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA).

Former Finance Minister Tendai Biti expressed reservations with most of the provisions of the Finance Bill. He disagreed with the idea of making ZIMRA as a port authority without consulting the public.

“Mr. Speaker is the issue of the creation of ZIMRA as a port authority. The Minister of Finance and Economic Development should not abuse the Finance Act to sneak in a major policy decision that requires public debate that also requires the discussion and cooperation of other interested ministers,” he said.

“The issue of a port authority is a major issue whose primary responsibility lies with the Minister responsible for roads and infrastructure who is the esteemed Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development, Hon. Mhona.”

Biti argued that the issue of a port authority required an independent Bill which the citizens of Zimbabwe must debate as they are entitled to do in terms of the provisions of Section 141 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe which requires public debate.

“Therefore, the Minister cannot step on the shoes of his brother, the esteemed Minister Mhona from Mashonaland East. The Minister cannot step on the shoes of Zimbabweans who are entitled to give their input on the ports authority.

“So, put simply Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance cannot abuse the Finance Act to make major policy decisions that require debate and discussion by everyone else – he cannot do that. The Finance Act is a money Bill.

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“There are certain privileges it has in terms of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. One of those privileges is that it is a Bill that we all know is fast tracked, that is why all the Standing Order requirements on the stages are short-cut when it comes to the Finance Bill.

“The Minister of Finance cannot use that privilege to abuse Parliament, citizens who have got an obligation and a right to debate.

“When you do the Finance Bill, you do not prepare principles that go to Cabinet for debate which if accepted by Cabinet, the matter then goes to the Attorney-General to draft the Bill; after that it goes to the Cabinet Committee on legislation.

“This Bill does not have that privilege. So, the Minister cannot abuse a Bill that his colleagues do not debate in the principles to sneak in major amendments.”

Zanu-PF MP Dexter Nduna also concurred with Biti’s sentiments saying ZIMRA could not be a regulator and an operator at the same time.

“Yes, I am just trying to look for what the ports authority’s ethos and values and its work is, Madam Speaker Ma’am. I think I just lost it a bit. However, amongst other issues is the revenue generation; the ports authority has to generate revenue, and also has to account for revenue collected.

“So if you then put ZIMRA which is supposed to account and both audit the revenue generated; there is no one who is going to police the police. Madam Speaker Ma’am, I ask that the ports authority gets to be the mandate of the Portfolio Committee on Transport and Infrastructural Development for three reasons,” he said.

In response, Ncube said ZIMRA was a temporary port authority.

“The issue of ZIMRA being designated as a temporary port authority, we are just trying to solve a problem. Currently, there is a problem. It was there last week, it was there last year, it is there today and it will be there tomorrow and we are just trying to solve it.

“We currently do not have a port authority, but if we temporarily have ZIMRA acting that role, which role we will then drop, they will have to relinquish that role as soon as the port authority is put in place.

“That is all we are proposing. We are trying to solve a problem. The Finance Act should also be used for solving problems in the same way that we are trying to solve other problems that Members have highlighted,” Ncube said.