Conflicting reports on businessman who died in hands of MRA officers at Songwe Border

By Duncan Mlanjira

Angry business persons from Mzuzu and Lilongwe took a coffin having the remains of business person, Denis Katsache to Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) offices in Mzuzu in protest that the man died when his blood pressure went up following allegations of harassment by MRA officers.

Reports on social media quoting the businessman’s friends indicate that late Katsache entered Malawi through Songwe Border in Karonga with a truck full of drinks from Tanzania and is alleged to have paid duty. 

But on his way, he is reported to have been stopped at Chitimba MRA check point where, upon checking his goods was told that it was undervalued.

The reports say after calculations were made by the MRA officials, a penalty was imposed and the deceased cooperated and added a further K4.5 million. 

After this, the reports say, the businessman was again told that the calcualations were again not accurate and he had to pay more.

This did not go with him and his blood pressure went up that eventually led to his death.

Minister Sosten Gwengwe

When fellow traders got wind of the story, they allegedly gathered together both in Lilongwe and Mzuzu and went on to engage Minister of Trade, Sosten Gwengwe — who is reported to have consulted MRA’s Commissioner General.

The reports suggest that the Commissioner General issued instructions to MRA’s Mzuzu office to release the truck and refund the money which was added to the deceased’s wife.

But MRA Mzuzu officers declined to do so and this forced the traders to take the coffin to the MRA offices in Mzuzu.

Bananas at the back of the truck

But other reports indicate that this is misrepresentation of facts, saying the late Katsache had with him smuggled energy drinks from Tanzania, which were covered with bananas at the back of the truck and was discovered after removing the bananas.

“It’s just regretable that having been discovered his blood pressure went up and eventually died.

“The MRA officers applied the law — they were not wrong even by defying the order from their Commissioner General,” said our source.

Lo and behold

Meanwhile, as if responding to this unfortunate drama in Mzuzu, National Association of Small & Medium Enterprises (NASME) is appealing to the citizenry to to play a part in ensuring that the government should meet the projected tax revenue of K1.116 trillion which was presented in the National Budget.

“We need to reject and report bribes in the import clearing system,” NASME says in a statement issued by National Executive Director, William Peter Mwale.

“We need to always decline favours and avoid helping importers that want to cheat the import clearing process.

“We should demand accountability from MRA officers so that they conduct their work in a professional manner. We should lobby for increased government, private sector and civil society support for improvements at MRA,” says the statement.

NASME says it is inspiring that in his 2020-21 National Budget Statement delivered in Parliament, Minister of Finance Felix Mlusu made a motivational quote from Henry Ford, American industrial and business magnate, which says: “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”

NASME describes this quote as a serious call from government for all citizens to take part in building a new Malawi.

MRA’s Msonkho House

“Given the negative impact of COVID-19 on our economy, coupled with rising debt levels and the goal of creating one million job, the new government needs trade, commerce and industry to jump-start economic growth now more than ever,” says NASME in its statement entitled ‘Reforming Malawi Revenue Authority Is Key To Delivery of 2020/2021 National Budget’.

“Against this backdrop, the implementation of the 2020-21 National Budget will be challenging as government has not been spared by the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.

“Notably, Malawi has experienced a substantial decrease in revenue due to an increased need for resources to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

Finance Minister Felix Mlusu

“For instance, the Minister indicated that the 2019-20 financial year closed with a deficit of K555.6 billion and domestic borrowing increased almost tenfold from K52.3 billion to K496.7 billion.

“These two key issues — the large deficit and increased borrowing are enemies of economic growth and, therefore, must be addressed immediately.”

Further, during the COVID-19 pandemic period, the statement says, monthly tax revenue collections have dropped by almost 11.0% when compared to revenue collection during the pre-COVID-19 period.

In addition to the recent impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic, the government is already losing a lot of revenue due to long standing inefficiencies in imports systems, especially at the borders.

NASME says it is concerned as to how the government will meet the projected tax revenue of K1.116 trillion in the current budget amid these challenges and hence its appeal to MRA to take a leading role by administering sound tax collection practices through reformed systems that do not permit losses.

“As a country, we cannot afford to lose a single penny. Further, many small and medium enterprises cannot afford unexpected costs and delays.

“So ensuring certainty and predictability of the tax system is essential during these difficult times.

“We appreciate the commitment made by the government that the Ministry of Finance will work closely with MRA and all revenue collecting Ministries, Departments and Agencies to enhance revenue mobilization efforts as one way of countering pressures on the budget.

“We support the government’s decision to emphasize efficiency in revenue mobilization through improved governance and reforms at MRA, which includes financial discipline, compliance and transparency in handing public resources.

“Evidence of the government’s commitment is the creation of the Domestic Resources Mobilisation Strategy, which the Minister said has been developed to focus on broadening and strengthening institutional capacity.”

NASME thus urges government to pursue these reforms, drawing on all necessary organizations and individuals to design and implement constructive changes to the system.

“Successful reform of MRA will support economic growth through increased revenue collection, increased certainly for businesses and more jobs, a more competitive private sector and a better, more trusting relationship between government and businesses, especially SMEs.

“Malawi for all is possible,” concludes the positive statement from NASME.

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