Business was united yesterday in applauding the decision of the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) to give a two-month amnesty to delinquent taxpayers, giving them an opportunity to clear back taxes without punitive interest and other penalties.
“Exciting” and “Long overdue” were some of responses from representatives of business groupings reacting to ZRA Commissioner Kingsley Chanda’s announcement of Zambia’s first-ever 100 percent amnesty of tax interest.
Augustine Mubanga, president of the Association of Mine Suppliers and Contractors(AMSC) said his group, whose members had suffered delayed payments from the mining industry, had been advocating for just such a gesture for a long time and it was great news that it was finally being done.
“This is exciting. We have been asking ZRA to do that…we believe that this will enable them to be more effective in the tax administration. We have always been asking where the inefficiencies were coming from as some of the taxes were not genuine. We are looking forward to them fully implementing the action,” he said.
This is the first time in Zambia’s history the Government is offering 100 percent waiver of interest and penalties on all tax accounts provided the principal tax liabilities were fully liquidated, with the ZRA hoping to collect K8 billion across the country during the amnesty period which would take effect from today up to July 31, 2017.
ZRA Commissioner General Kingsley Chanda said during the launch of the amnesty on interest and penalties in Lusaka yesterday that the idea behind the initiative was to lift the burden of the penalties on taxpayers to enable them pay their principal taxes and start afresh.
“In exercise of the powers vested in me under various tax laws and with the approval of the Government through the Minister of Finance, I have today waived all interest and penalties for all taxpayers with outstanding returns and tax debt,” Mr Chanda said.
Kitwe District Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Allan Nyirenda said the chamber was delighted and grateful for an opportunity to most businesses to clear arrears
Mr Nyirenda also revealed that the chamber had made its own submissions to the ZRA to consider offering an amnesty to businesses that had fallen behind on their taxes, as it felt that the high interests and penalties were unfair on the business community.
“We fought for this and we are grateful it has come. We had actually petitioned ZRA to do that and I am sure there were others that petitioned as well,” he said.
Zambia Association of Manufacturers chairperson Roseta Mwape-Chabala described the move as a positive news for taxpayers which had come at the right time.
Ms Mwape-Chabala said it was important for businesses to be up to-date with paying taxes, and amnesty offered those that were struggling with their taxes make a fresh start.
“It is important for us to get up to date with paying taxes. Government needs the money. It’s a good call because sometimes taxpayers fail to honour their obligations because of the penalties imposed on them which are way too high,” she said.
Mr Chanda urged taxpayers facing interests and other penalties to take advantage of the amnesty, saying if strict enforcement of law was to be applied to recover the interest and penalties on tax debt, most businesses would collapse.
He explained the reasons for the amnesty, saying that the ZRA understood the difficulties that taxpayers faced in getting paid for the supply of goods and services to Government, for instance, especially those in the construction sector.
Mr Chanda said delays in payments led to suppliers accumulating interest and penalties on delayed tax payments.
He said Authority was also aware of the penalties that were generated during the ZRA system migration from the old to the current tax online system as taxpayers struggled to adapt to the changes.
Referring to last year’s two-month motor vehicle amnesty, he said some people were suspicious of the motives behind it, many believing it was just a trap designed to impound their unregistered vehicles.
He said those that stepped forward had their vehicles properly cleared and re-registered.
“The response to the vehicle amnesty was not very good. We still have 40,000 vehicles we are looking for with the help of our partners at Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA). ZRA managed to collect over K2 million, with about K1 million being assessed but not yet paid for,” he said.
Mr Chanda said the motor vehicle amnesty was not the first nor last of such initiatives by ZRA.