ZIMRA BOSS : I WAS WIDOWED TWICE
The Daily News on Sunday’s Tendayi Madhomu speaks to Zimra boss Faith Mazani, below are excerpts of the interview.
Q: Tell us about yourself
A: Faith Mazani, born in Mhondoro, last in a big family of 15, child of a peasant farmer. I grew up and was raised on proceeds from peasant farming.
My father was a successful farmer; he managed to raise 15 children from farming. That gave me an opportunity, being the last to get education. I was the first graduate in the family but that doesn’t mean there was anything special about me.
I attended school in Mhondoro, Mubaira; then went to Tegwani for my secondary education. We were a Methodist family, so I went to a Methodist school. I then proceeded to university.
We were the first graduates at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ). I was in my first year in 1980, I studied Business Studies. I am proud, a true Zimbabwean child.
Soon after university I joined the then department of taxes on January 3, 1983 as a tax administrator and served in tax administration since then. I got a scholarship to study in Japan; a Masters in Economics, focusing on Public Policy and Taxation, this was in 1996. I came back from Japan and became one of the first revenue commissioners, when we brought the domestic and customs taxes together.
I served in different regions and I am very passionate about serving the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority. I had to leave because of restructuring that was taking place. I became a Zimra pensioner after retirement in Feb 2007.
I had to take early retirement because of the restructuring programme. After a stint of unemployment, I worked briefly for the Deloitte Institution, and then the South Africa Revenue Authority from November 2007 to 2010 as a senior manager.
I left when the Swaziland Revenue Authority was being formed, to assist in formulating the authority but with the specific task of implementing the VAT in 2012. I was instrumental in the setting up of their modernised division, starting reforms to improve the operations of the authority.
My involvement in the reforms exposed me to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) who then recruited me in January 2014.
I then worked as the regional revenue administration advisor of the IMF, at the Regional Technical Assistance Centre, working in Ghana where I was based, Nigeria, Liberia, Gambia, Sierra Leon and the Cape Verde islands in West Africa.
I worked with revenue administrations to improve their revenue mobilisation, and implementing reforms. At the end of January 2018, I was recruited as the commissioner-general of Zimra.
Q: So you left a plush job at the IMF to come to work for Zimra?
A: A lot of people ask why I left IMF and came back to serve Zimra under these circumstances. Well, really, I was working in West African countries to improve their economies and seeing where Zimbabwe was and what I could do because of the exposure I felt I had enough motivation to come and work for the country. I came knowing what I needed I to do.
The positive outlook of the economy in the new dispensation gave me hope that what we wanted was achievable. What I was really afraid to come back to in Zimbabwe was corruption; but the message of the president is my biggest motivation, that of fighting corruption. A lot of revenue is lost due to corruption.
Q: Are you married, are you a family woman?
A: I lost my first husband in 1991, we have a son, and he is now 32, married and working in South Africa. He studied at the University of Cape Town (UCT). So, I built my career as a single woman; that was a very difficult time since my job at Zimra involved a lot of travelling within and outside the country.
I was fortunate to find responsible helpers to take care of my son while I was away. I only had two in his childhood. When I left for Japan, he was only 10. Whenever I could, I made sure I would travel with him. In the two years while I was in Japan, I managed to bring him there twice for Christmas.
I have been widowed twice; my second husband died in 2007 and left me with a stepson who is sitting for his Ordinary Level now. It was painful but I guess certain things happen for a reason.
Q: What does this powerful commissioner-general post mean to you?
A: It is an honour for the president and the board to have found me fitting to serve the board in an economic context where there is so much that is expected of Zimra. Zimbabwe has a huge budget deficit gap and I have the challenge to help the minister in closing the gap.
Zimbabwe is in a better place compared to most of the countries that I have served in that have been through wars, Ebola, and have a much bigger level of poverty and underdevelopment. So, we are in a better situation and Zimbabwe can do it.
Q: What challenges has the post presented to you as a woman?
A: I have excelled as a woman. Taxes are an area that has always had women; although obviously others may feel this position is just too much for a woman.
Q: What do you like doing away from work?
A: I like encouraging children, developing them, giving hope. I have been a Sunday school teacher. I like serving God; for me even in my job I ask for guidance from God. I enjoy helping others; that is what I like to do.
Q: What does it take for one to reach where you are today?
A: It takes resilience, commitment, knowing where you want to go, accepting to be used by God, committing yourself to him and availing yourself to God. I used to like cooking, trying out new recipes, but now I hardly have time.
Q: Who is your favourite musician?
A: I like American gospel music. CeCe Winans is my favourite musician. I listen to the words that are being sung. I am always in the mood of praising God.
Q: What’s your favourite colour and food?
A: Blue is my favourite colour. My favourite food is sadza nemuriwo une dovi. I love traditional food, probably because I have stayed out of the country for a long while.
Q: Your message to young professional women?
A: There is this perception in Zimbabwe that our culture is not supportive of women. We need to stop this thing of talking about women as being looked down upon. Opportunities are there for women if you are not selective. Anyone who has a passion can go for it.
Q: What do you say about the allegations that Zimra has contributed to this economic mess?
A: I don’t believe that Zimra has a big role to play in the so-called economic “mess”. I don’t even want to call it a mess because it is a result of where we have been and it is something we can change as Zimbabweans. We need to support the government on the policies they are implementing.
Yes, politicians make mistakes; they are also people looking for opportunities. It would be wrong to apportion the responsibility to Zimra or to someone else. It is the responsibility of all Zimbabweans to forge the way ahead.
Q: There are concerns that Zimra has encouraged the black market by failing to curtail smuggling?
A: From where we have come from, I admire Zimbabweans because they are very enterprising and they are able to spot opportunities; they are looking for ways to forge an economy; but individually we won’t manage to build this economy; we need to create more opportunities as a country, together.
We need capital, foreign direct investment, we need foreigners as partners. We need to formalize those businesses for the markets to develop.
Q: Since the board was dissolved, who are you reporting to at present?
A: I am reporting to the Treasury; the permanent secretary in the Finance ministry to be precise.
Q: Is that lawful?
A: It is lawful, because the Revenue Authority Act provides for that, and the dissolution of the board is listed as part of the circumstances allowing for such a set up.
Q: What is Zimra doing to curtail smuggling of goods through the country’s borders?
A: There is smuggling of goods into the country through many channels.
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country with porous borders.
It is also a culture of Zimbabweans of not wanting to pay taxes.
We are all responsible for smuggling. In most cases, people intend not to pay taxes as they come into the country. You come in with expensive phones hidden in your suitcases.
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