Brothers in the sun

10 07 2012

“Do you have a letter?” the tax official at ZIMRA (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) asked.

“What letter?” I replied.

“There’s a notice on the door” he waved vaguely in the direction of the entrance. “You need a letter from your company authorizing you to collect the ITF263” he continued.

“But I am the director!” I exclaimed.

“Well in that case we need to see your CR14 and your ID”.

I got up more than a little perplexed. I’d been to Kurima House in Harare to get an ITF263 (tax clearance form) and never been asked for company documents (the CR14 lists the names and addresses of a company’s directors) but I’d never won an argument with a tax official so there was not a lot to do except go and get it back at my house. I checked on the door on the way out and there was indeed a notice listing the requirement for a letter for a non-company official to collect the ITF263 but nothing else.

Arriving back at the tax office this afternoon the tax official banged on the office window as a walked past and told me to come directly inside ahead of the queue. Given the length of the queue I didn’t think that was a bad idea. I went to the next free desk and nobody there was interested in my CR14!  Just less than an hour later, with just 5 minutes left on the parking ticket that I’d bought, I was back at my truck with the precious green document and feeling more than a little pleased with myself. All the tax payments had been in order and though I had to visit a few other offices in the interim I was now clear to import raw materials for the next 6 months.

I was waiting for the traffic to move behind me so that I could reverse when the man with albinism appeared at my window. Blacks with albinism are easily spotted in this country of a black majority and while once they were shunned they have become much more accepted in the last 10 years or so. He held up a container of sunblock and said “Can you help me please sir, I need some money to buy some more of this?”

I paused a moment and then reached down into the foot well of the passenger seat and retrieved the ¾ full bottle of factor 30 sunblock that I keep in the pickup and handed to him. Fully expecting him to be disappointed at not getting cash to spend as he liked I was pleasantly taken aback at his obvious delight. I gently remonstrated him for not wearing a hat but he explained that he’d washed it that morning and it was still wet.  I’d once given my cap to an albinistic girl in the Zambezi Valley when paragliding there but unlike her this man did seem to be looking after his skin. The poor girl whom I gave my cap to was pathologically shy and was obviously taking the brunt of the teasing of the other kids.

I thought it a smart move approaching a white man who’d very likely be sympathetic and know what sunblock was. Blacks do of course get sunburnt but nothing like the extent that we whites do in this tropical climate. What the man who’d approached did not know was that I was a soft target on another front – my mother died of malignant melanoma in 1992, a high price for living in the tropics.

The trouble with ZIMRA

30 03 2012

I pondered the paper clip and bent it into the number 4. It needed more though so I wrapped the down bit around the tail. Ah, that was better but it was still unbalanced. Another 2 wraps and it was approaching objet d’art status. What associations did I have with the number 4? Four horsemen of the Apocalypse waiting on high. Chris de Burg song. I wondered if he was still shacked-up with the au pair girl after writing Woman in Red for his wife. Forthright, Firth-of-Forth, force to be reckoned with – that wasn’t really 4. I looked for other entertainment. I investigated the contents of the notelet holder on the desk but there was little of interest. Taking liberties perhaps? I think I’d earned the right to take a few liberties. This was my third visit to the ZIMRA (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) office to get my Tax Clearance Certificate and after a total of some 5 hours there the goal was in sight!

A Tax Clearance Certificate is a requirement to import anything and it can take some doing to get as I’d found out. I have previously acquired them before by fair means and foul but things have tightened up substantially and this time there was a bit of a rush as the container of coir that we use at the nursery for propagating seedlings is due at Beira, Mozambique in three weeks. Now I really wasn’t so naive as to think that one visit would do the trick but all my tax payments were up to date when I arrived three weeks ago with the file in a bag and negotiated the stairs into Kurima House in the Harare CBD. Disabled access to public buildings is mandatory in Harare but it doesn’t seem to have filtered through to ZIMRA despite the recent refurbishment of the offices. The man at the computer made a few notes and sent me upstairs to the Debt Management department where I introduced myself to Mr M. After a mere hour and a half it was ascertained that my PAYE (pay-as-you-earn) file was up to date (it should be, I fill in the returns based on the deposit slips of the money that I have paid) but the company income tax needed a payment. Wow, this was easier than I thought! I went straight off to the bank full of optimism and hope and made the required deposit.

Last week I was back, somewhat puzzled as to why my PAYE account no longer balanced. We sat and pondered the columns of figures. It seemed that a $501 deposit had found its way in erroneously. That had to be removed but not straight away. There was also an issue of a previous penalty that I’d paid that had been wrongly credited to the wrong account. I left after 2 hours more than a bit depressed – I just didn’t seem to be making progress. It didn’t help my mood that I’d been optimistic enough to only pay for one hour’s parking and had to dash (well dash at my speed) downstairs to pay for the next hour.

Then yesterday it all fell into place. By this time Mr M and I were almost on first name terms, I had his phone number and had even booked an appointment. I paid for a full 2 hours parking and made my way upstairs. The $501 had been removed and the penalty had been correctly credited but it still didn’t balance. I muttered a mental obscenity – one DOES NOT GET FLUSTERED IN PUBLIC IN THE ZIMRA OFFICES – and settled down for an extended session. Then it all clicked into place! I ended up with a $46 credit, Mr M typed up the necessary letter clearing the way for the Tax Clearance Certificate and I was in his supervisor’s office happily bending the paper clip whilst waiting for her to appear and sign the letter.

That done I was back downstairs in the office that issues the tax clearance – waiting. It was lunch time after all. Not only that, it was lunchtime at the end of the month so most people were not out to lunch but passing their time on emails and computer games because as one clerk admitted, “I am broke”! I watched a video of some daft characters in a zebra suit trying to get close to a herd of zebras. The latter were not impressed but a pride of lion were and investigated and after a short tussle one immature lioness made off with the head of the zebra costume without the idiot’s head inside it. They were obviously out for entertainment. Then it was my turn and in a short while (relatively speaking) I had the treasured green document in my hand and was off to celebrate lunch at a restaurant I’d heard of.

The “croissant” arrived  cold despite being taken “hot from the oven”. It looked like a croissant but the interior was definitely just bread. The coffee was acceptable so I sat and enjoyed the smell of rain on the hot tarmac for a while.