The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) has been plunged into a fresh storm after it emerged that board chairperson Willia Bonyongwe ordered that their meetings should not be digitally recorded in what insiders said came as a slap in the face for the anti-corruption drive adopted by the same board.
In an e-mailed response to the latest accusation, Bonyongwe admitted to giving the directive to Zimra staff to switch off digital recordings, saying the decision was taken after realising that digital recordings were stifling debate.
Proponents of digital recordings argue that minute-takers have the challenge of keeping up with taking notes as accurately as possible.
They say while using some form of shorthand seems very natural and easy, important resolutions or points may not be fully captured. A missed point or a rephrased statement can cause an incomplete record or a disputable record of proceedings.
In a recent interview with the Daily News, former Zimra Commissioner-General Gershem Pasi said he introduced electronic recording of board meetings to ensure accountability and good corporate governance.
In 2015 and following Pasi’s resignation, Bonyongwe directed Zimra to abandon the electronic recordings of board meetings in what insiders said contradicts its claims to upholding transparency and accountability.
The tax collector is currently fighting to ward off allegations of corruption, bad governance and dishonest dealings.
A seven-page letter was recently sent to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission chair Job Whabira by “concerned Zimra employees” accusing Bonyongwe of dominating board meetings and ensuring board members rubberstamp her wishes.
Bonyongwe has responded to the “concerned Zimra employees” saying it was an insult to the rest of the board members to say they cannot raise their voice against her.
She said in all Zimra board meetings, they have become unpopular for their “zero tolerance to corruption” especially from “powerful” smugglers who are losing millions of dollars from the board’s stance on corruption.
“You see, our term is coming to an end this June and so the mud throwing season has apparently started and the idea is to throw (dirt) as much as you can and hope some of it will indeed stick. Good luck to them,” Bonyongwe told the Daily News.
She said it was strange that an issue which happened in 2015 had become newsworthy now.
“You must be aware that the Zimra board was tasked to fight tax corruption when we got appointed. This was due to the public perception that Zimra was corrupt. This perception was actually backed by a survey, which management had done through a consultant,” she said.
“So I called for a special board meeting to brainstorm corruption and to find strategies to combat it. It was at that meeting that we found the recording machines on the table in the boardroom. I asked why the board was not consulted or advised because it was a board meeting. We were also told that the previous board meetings were recorded.
“As the chairman of the meeting I was taken aback, at the timing and also did not appreciate the manner they did it, it was an ambush as if meant to stifle free debate of the issue. That day’s meeting was recorded — if my recollection serves me right. In our board, we have a member who was in the previous board and I inquired with her afterwards if indeed they had been recording previous meetings as we had been made to believe and as you again allege. She indicated to us that they had not been recording and I thereafter, stopped the recordings.
“However, we do have very good secretaries and our board minutes are quite good. They are sent electronically to everyone at the same time for correction. I have never asked, but you might want to ask management if they are recording their executive meetings since 2015,” said Bonyongwe.
Bonyongwe, however, insisted that Zimra board was very committed to its mandate, saying their performance thus was instructive.
She said when her board started, revenues were dwindling and targets were not being met, but the situation has since changed.
“The government was failing to pay civil servants and pay was being staggered. By the grace of God we managed to plug the leakages and now government finances have improved tremendously, civil servants are paid on time and service delivery is improving slowly.
“We are proud of our record and are very excited that the upward trend will certainly continue after we have gone, the momentum is there already.
“Our sincere hope is that there would be significant surplus, after recurrent expenditure for government to fund capital development projects once all the strategies are implemented.
“We have so many mineral resources, good land, wild life, flora and fauna and human capital we cannot fail to develop our nation endogenously with relative ease.