ZIMBABWE – A surprise raid on Walter Magaya’s Prophetic Healing and Deliverance (PHD) church by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) has accentuated fears that the skint government has started a blitz on churches to boost its finances.
This has, however, been greeted with shock by the clergy, with some churches expressing a state of “confusion” over government’s intentions.
While Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa told Parliament in July that government had “no plans to tax churches except for business ventures run on a commercial basis”, Zimra reportedly stormed Magaya’s offices this week to demand a list of people who have benefited from his donations since he started his church a few years ago.
The Zimra public relations department had not responded to written questions on the latest raid at the time of going to print.
“We are not going to tax prayers, but every business should pay taxes, it does not matter if it is run by churches, but that business will be taxed,” Mnangagwa said while responding to a question by Bikita West Zanu PF MP Munyaradzi Kereke.
Zimra boss, Gershem Pasi, had earlier told the parliamentary portfolio committee on Small to Medium Enterprises that only traditional churches including the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Methodist whose ministers “are humble in terms of their lifestyles” would be spared.
“Now there is a term ‘churchpreneurship’, we are focusing on them and we have engaged them. We want to set parameters and their investments are separate from what they get from the church,” he said.
“Once we get from our intelligence that there is money somewhere, it’s our duty to see whether that money is legit and whether they are giving us our share,” the Zimra boss said.
One of the churches under Pasi’s radar Emmanuel Makandiwa’s United Family International Church (UFIC) told the Daily News yesterday that the discord from the tax authorities was bewildering.
“We really do not know what is taking place here,” Prime Kufa, the church’s spokesperson said.
“ We are now confused and do not know what will happen because the last time we heard about it, government said churches would not be taxed,” the UFIC official said.
Economist John Makamure of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust said in the absence of enabling legislation, government could not tax churches.
“Instead, government should not pursue such fire-fighting measures as they will not help,” he said.
“What is needed is for authorities to work on growing the national cake so they can get revenue from legitimate tax and non-tax measures after attracting foreign direct investment,” Makamure said.
Another commentator Christopher Mugaga of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce said: “We are gathering from the people during the ongoing 2016 national budget consultations that they think churches should pay tax.”