Editor's Note

Is it legal to empty people’s bank accounts?

This week, I want to introduce you to Mr Banda, a totally fictitious businessman, who happens to be a law-abiding citizen, and is therefore paying his taxes. However, one day, the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) informs Mr Banda that he owes a totally fictitious amount of K21,700 in unpaid taxes and penalties.

The onus is now on Mr Banda to prove that he does not owe this amount, and please remember that Zambia’s rather user-unfriendly tax system means that mistakes happen all the time, sometimes as a fault of the taxpayer, but certainly also as a fault of the ZRA.

However, the ZRA does not wait for Mr Banda’s evidence. Instead, it sends out a request to every bank in Zambia, asking if they happens to hold Mr Banda’s bank account, and if they do, to please transfer what is in the account up to the amount of K21,700 to ZRA with immediate effect, within that same day.

When Mr Banda finds out that his account has been drained, he is obviously rather upset, and rushes to ZRA. However, not even the evidence that Mr Banda does not owe the ZRA any tax will compel ZRA to return Mr Banda’s money. Instead, the confiscated amount will simply be offset against future tax payments.

Now, this is a totally fictitious tale, but something similar happened to a friend of mine, and it has been confirmed by the banks. This week, ZRA’s new commissioner general Kingsley Chanda declared war on tax evasion, explaining that the ZRA would “mount an aggressive nationwide tax collection crusade”. I hope this does not involve cleaning out people’s bank accounts without their knowledge. After all, one wonders whether it is legal to do this over a disputed amount? What happened to the fundamental concept of innocent until proven guilty?


camilla
Camilla Hebo Buus, Editor Zambia Weekly
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This Week’s Exchange

Nic Cheeseman, professor of democracy and international development, Birmingham University, UK, stated:

“Until now, Zambia’s progress under multi-party politics has been quietly impressive. Over the last year, though, things have changed. (…) According to the Conference of Catholic Bishops – one of the most influential bodies in the country – Zambia doesn’t deserve to be called a democracy (…) it has become a dictatorship – or getting there. Many Catholic leaders were seen to be sympathetic to the PF, when it won power under Michael Sata in 2011, so what has changed? This is not the first time that a Zambian president has sought to consolidate his authority by manipulating state institutions. Nor is it the first time that opposition leaders have been arrested, or civil society groups intimidated. In the recent past, these moments of high political tension have often been resolved peacefully, (…) but it’s unlikely that Lungu will cede his quest to remain in office. First, key civil society groups such as the trade unions have been weakened by privatisation, informalisation and unemployment. Second, the Constitutional Court, that’s responsible for interpreting the constitution, was handpicked by Lungu. Third, Lungu’s case is more complicated than Chiluba’s. In 2001, the second president had served two full terms in office and wanted one more. Today, Lungu is arguing that he should be allowed to have a third term because his first period in office did not count, as he was just serving out the final year of Sata’s term. All of this means that Lungu is likely to get his way. (…) Opposition protests are inevitable, as is some civil society criticism. If past form is anything to go by, Lungu’s government will respond with threats and intimidation.”

Ruling PF party deputy secretary general Mumbi Phiri reacted:

Cheeseman is nothing but an attention-seeking professor, who thinks he can lecture us about democracy. The people of Zambia spoke through the vote, and their wishes must be respected by all, including Cheeseman. Cheeseman creates the impression that there was a letter authored by all Catholic bishops, which labelled Zambia as a dictatorship. For the record, that was an opinion expressed by the archbishop. (…) It is irresponsible for Cheeseman to compare ours with late President Frederick Chiluba’s third-term bid. The view that the current constitution allows President Lungu to seek re-election (…) is before the courts of law. (…) the PF will respect the outcome of the court system. President Lungu’s good governance record remains solid. It was President Lungu’s administration that took the referendum on the proposed Bill of Rights to the people. (…) it was UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema who campaigned against it. It is President Lungu’s administration, which allowed for the 50%+1 clause in the constitution, the running mate clause, and reduction of presidential powers. President Lungu believes in an independent judiciary. (…) Today, Zambia has a Constitutional Court, something that was unheard of in the history of our nation. While the opposition petitioned the Constitutional Court, President Lungu remained calm until the matter expired. We wish to correct the view that human rights of politicians in trouble with the law are being violated. Citizens, who are also politicians, and on trial, have appeared in court within a week of being charged, and (…) for continued trial. The due process of the law is clearly being followed to the letter. Professor Cheeseman‘s daydream, that Zambia is falling from grace because of HH’s arrest, is a lie. Zambia remains a shining example of democracy not only on the African continent but world over.”