Govt urged to create same conducive conditions for local SMEs as is the case with foreigners

By Caleb Chikwawawa

Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises board member Taurai Marembo has implored government to take more deliberate measures aimed at capacitating local SMEs so that they can be able to compete favourably with financially strong foreign businesses operating in the same sector.

He was speaking during a recent Harare interface by the finance and SME ministries, ZIMRA and players within the SME sector.

The conference ran under the theme, “Unpacking the Finance Act to SMEs”.

In his comments, Marembo also expressed dismay at government’s apparent reluctance to scrape policies that have tended to suppress the growth of a sector responsible for the employment of a lot of Zimbabweans.

“Zimbabwean businesspeople know the areas where money really is, but there is no capital to fund them so that they operate in those areas.

“If the ministry can come up with a product whereby they partner with these MSMEs; something like a venture capital thing, the government will raise a lot of money.

“If you go down there checking some shops, 90 percent of the guys operating there are foreigners. Why? Because they have financial capacity.

“The local guys do not have financial capacity but with government coming in and partnering them, we Zimbabweans will be operating down there,” he said while referring to downtown Harare which is now teaming with a lot of small business operators.

Marembo added, “We have got the Ministry of Finance, the ZIMRA guys. Somebody has said they (SMEs) are so good at wanting to make money, but that which makes traders get money, they (government) don’t want to assist.”

Marembo also said they have met frustrations from ZIMRA each time SMEs have invented programmes tailored to lift the fortunes of the sector.

“When I was still in the Zimbabwe National Chamber of SMEs, we wanted to do SME registration biometric.

“These are the challenges that this country has, people talk of estimated figures to say, ‘we have 3 million SMEs in Zimbabwe, we have so forth’. Who has done that counting. Those are just estimates.

“We imported biometric material so that we register SMEs.

“They were confiscated by ZIMRA, up to this day, I left the chamber but ZIMRA has not given back the material.

“All the explanation was done by to say ‘you will raise more revenue, all the SMEs will be in the database, you will know who is operating where’.

“ZIMRA doesn’t want to listen to all that, they just want money! money! money!” said Marembo.

Marembo said government policies favour foreign investors more than local businesses.

“Foreign investors, when they are being attracted in to this country, they are even given tax holiday, whereby for certain period they don’t pay tax because they invested in Zimbabwe.

“We also want the same for our MSMEs; it’s not being done for MSMEs but it’s being done for foreign businesses.

“What’s wrong with local businesses? Why are we being so unfair to ourselves?” said Marembo.

Marembo also cautioned ZIMRA officials who came to the conference for continuously defending the tax collector each time issues were being raised against it.

He said ZIMRA should also readopt the presumptive tax system in which businesses pay tax according to how big they are.

“ZIMRA, let’s go back to presumptive taxing, which we used to do back then if you still remember. Let’s do that. Not to say tax is US$300 for every business.

“The US$300 is being decided while you are seated in high offices. It’s being decided with people such as, for example, Mthuli Ncube who then approves after spending 10 years out of the country.

“Most of you guys have lost touch with the ground. You don’t know what’s on the grassroots.

“People are starving while you think they are traders they are making money.

“What you call salons which we know, they spend the whole day sitting eating maputi. They can’t even afford their own launch, but you make decisions and get money from them,” he said.

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