The top-of-the-range vehicles that were meant to be registered within two weeks as stipulated by law, were confiscated by ZIMRA as part of an on-going blitzkrieg targeting unregistered vehicles.
ZIMRA has been under extreme pressure to raise revenue for the bloated inclusive government that adopted cash budgeting under Finance Minister, Tendai Biti.
Of late, officers from ZIMRA have been targeting vehicles brought into the country under the guise of temporary import licences as well as informal traders who were previously excluded from the tax net, but have become cash-cows for the bankrupt government of national unity consummated in February this year.
The seizure of vehicles allocated to the judges might force the government to intervene to save members of the bench, who are the custodians of the law, from embarrassment.
Last week, Biti said he held a meeting with ZIMRA Commissioner-General, Gershem Pasi, on the clampdown on tax defaulters launched recently and impressed upon the authority to respect people and human rights when conducting their operations.
Although the names of the judges whose cars were seized could not immediately be released, sources told this paper that the vehicles were impounded late last month from two High Court judges and three others from the Labour Court.A regional magistrate also lost her vehicle to ZIMRA under similar circumstances.Several vehicles were donated to various government ministries and departments, including the Justice and Legal Affairs Ministry over the past two years to improve the working conditions of civil servants who were leaving the country in large numbers in search of greener pastures.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has also been making donations to judges from the Labour Court and the Supreme Court following a speech by Judge President Rita Makarau during the opening of the 2007 legal year in which she said the justice delivery system was in shambles and needed urgent funding to bring it back on track.
The latest donation, of court recording equipment worth US$100 000, was done last week by the UNDP. In her speech, Justice Makarau said it was not normal for the judiciary to discuss their conditions of service in public, but she was breaking tradition as the situation was dire.
“It is wrong by any measure to make the judiciary beg for resources for its sustenance. It is wrong to make the judiciary beg for resources from central government,” said the Judge President who referred all questions to the Registrar of the High Court, Charles Nyatanga, when contacted for comment yesterday.
It has since emerged that some of the vehicles donated to the Justice Ministry were still to be cleared by the Central Vehicle Registry because of logistical and clearing issues between the government and its suppliers.ZIMRA commissioner responsible for legal and corporate services, Florence Jambwa, was evasive when contacted for comment on the matter this week.
“We wish to advise that we are unable to confirm this position or any other information relating to clients that we deal with. To buttress this point, I wish to draw you to the Revenue Authority Act (Chapter 23:11), in particular Section 34A, which deals with preservation of secrecy,” said Jambwa.
“We hope and trust that you or your newspaper are not listed as any of the persons juristic or otherwise to whom the representatives of the authority are lawfully allowed or obliged to disclose information regarding its clients’ information.”
The law cited by Jambwa says unless authorised to divulge information under that Act or by a competent court, any person employed by the revenue authority shall “keep secret, and aid in keeping secret, all information coming to their knowledge in the exercise of the functions”.
It also stipulates that any employee who unlawfully releases information would be liable to imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years.
Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku yesterday said he could not comment on the matter as the issues of vehicles for judges was administrative and as such falls under the aegis of the Minister of Justice.
Justice Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, however said: “I am hearing this for the first time. I am not aware. If it is true, we will look into it. We cannot have judges who do not have vehicles.”