MUTARE — Automatic vehicles have flooded the country’s car industry, with car dealers reportedly striking deals with disabled people to import the now-popular vehicles.
Disabled people import goods into the country duty-free on humanitarian grounds.
In a snap survey in the border town of Mutare, NewsDay established that most dealers have resorted to “employing” disabled people in a ploy to evade customs duty on second-hand vehicles imported from South Africa.
“I don’t see anything wrong with helping the disabled,” said Alfred Ngorima, a car dealer based in Mutare, adding he was paying disabled persons he used to import vehicles for resale.
“Per vehicle I buy from South Africa, I get the help of someone disabled as you know that the disabled communities are privileged under the government’s free duty import facility,” said Ngorima.
Menford Sithole, also a car dealer, said he was doing well in his business as he was not paying duty for the vehicles he imported from South Africa. He entered into a chain of deals with numerous disabled persons in town and even those from rural areas in Manicaland.
“Business in car selling here does very well, especially with diamond dealers just near us. So I made plans to work with the disabled, who are privileged to import vehicles on free duty,” Sithole said.
But Mac Haraj, another dealer, said he was upright in his dealings and criticised those deceiving the government, evading payment of duty for vehicles they imported.
“It’s not good to take advantage of the plight of the handicapped people and use them to our advantage.
These people are in dire need to make ends meet with life and if you approach them with promises of rewarding them — wanting them to import vehicles on your behalf for resale they will obviously give in, but how much do they get?
“It’s really ridiculous because in most cases here in Mutare, the dealers pay them from $250 to $300 (per vehicle), yet the dealers reap huge profits after selling the vehicles,” Haraj said.
Mirirai Chitahwi, a disabled man, who uses a wheelchair for his mobility, said he was glad for the car dealers who continued to approach him for help to import automatic vehicles.
“You see, I can’t walk and it’s difficulty for me to fend for myself and my family, so these car dealers are my ‘saviours’, they give me something in return when I help them,” Chitahwi said.
He said the vehicles would be bought in his name and all the paperwork is done soon after the vehicles reach home to change ownership.
“I don’t care about how much profits these people get and after all, how much money do I put in their business? I’m getting easy money here,” Chitahwi said.
Reports of disabled people conniving with car dealers to import second-hand automatic vehicles initially meant for the disabled, have gone on the increase, a situation that has placed the government in a dilemma as whether to cancel or suspend the privilege meant for disabled communities.
Farai Mukuta, executive director for the National Association for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH) castigated business persons who abused the car import facility meant to benefit the disabled.
“We can not allow the government to be defrauded by these dubious car dealers who do not want to pay for the vehicles they bring into the country. They are abusing people who are disabled in the process,” Mukuta said.
“The growing rot could be due to some Zimra officials conniving with car dealers and the disabled persons, with all of them possibly making a killing in these scams.”
He said his organisation had formally written to the Ministry of Finance to address the ill, which he said the ministry had noted.
Mukuta also said the age of vehicles purportedly imported for the disabled should be five years and below and urged Zimra to work with NASCOH to clear vehicles said to be imported for the disabled persons.
“If Zimra would want to clear vehicles purported to belong to disabled persons, NASCOH would be of great help as we know disabled persons from our database,” Mukuta said.
“Disabled persons found to be conniving with car dealers to import vehicles free of duty, should be banned from any benefits associated with the free duty car import facility.
The ownership change for vehicles imported for the disabled persons should be made after five years so that scrupulous elements in these scams can have their deals derailed.”
He said for disabled persons importing vehicles, it was one vehicle per person and suspected car dealers could be bringing in scores of disabled persons to import vehicles on their behalf.
“The government’s policy for the disabled persons importing vehicles into the country is one vehicle per person, meaning the dealers involved need more disabled persons to import vehicles on free duty,” added the NASCOH boss.