Resettled farmers fume over land tax
SOME beneficiaries of the land reform programme owe up to $60 000 each in land rentals that were introduced by the Government last year, after payments were backdated to 2009, a situation that has made farmers call for urgent policy review.
The levy initiated through the Finance Act No 8 of 2015 provides for $3 land rentals per hectare per year, and $2 unit tax per hectare annually for A2 farmers, while A1 Communal farmers pay $10 land rentals per year, and $5 unit tax over the same period.
The Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement collects the money and forwards it to Treasury before the latter allocates the unit tax to respective local authorities.
Farmers in Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East, Manicaland and Masvingo told a Parliamentary Committee that was conducting public hearings on the Land Commission Bill last week that the land rentals were crippling them.
Mashonaland Central Senator, Cde Damian Mumvuri, chaired the joint committee of the Senate Thematic Committee on Peace and Security, and the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Lands and Irrigation Development.
The Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust and the United Nations Development Programme sponsored the public hearings.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union Masvingo provincial chairperson Mr Livingstone Mabika told the Parliamentary Committee at Roy Business Centre in Masvingo North that the blanket charge of $5 was not sustainable for farmers in regions three, four and five.
“Each beast takes about three years to mature, of which it grazes about 12 hectares per year, meaning that if you sell it at two years, you would have paid $120 land levy without factoring in the other costs, which are obviously way more than that,” said Mr Mabika.
“It’s gloomy in the sense that in this province, some farmers have about 1 500 hectares for cattle ranching, meaning that they are expected to pay $7 500 in rentals per year. To make matters worse, they backdated the rentals to when we dollarised in 2009. In essence, some farmers are expected to have paid about $60 000 in rentals.”
He said there was confusion as to when exactly farmers were expected to pay as there were different dates in policy pronouncements.
One policy pronouncement indicated that farmers will pay land rentals and development levies from January 2015, and another one said with effect from July 2015, yet when implementing the policy, officials from the Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement backdated payments to 2009.
Mashonaland Central farmer and wife to the late Zanla commander General Josiah Magama Tongogara, Cde Angeline Kumbirai Tongogara, told the same committee that there was confusion on the land levy.
“The levy was only introduced last year. All along, we have been paying taxes to council, yet we are now being told that we are in arrears that run into thousands of dollars. For instance, they’re now saying I should pay the levy since 2011.
“The biggest challenge is that there’s lack of information from the ministry. They’re saying the levy was written about in the press, but some of us are living at the farms, so we’ve no access to the press,” she said.
Another Mashonaland Central farmer, Mrs Buppe Changara, widow of the late national hero who was the officer commanding Police Protection Unit, Senior Assistant Commissioner Winston Changara, also told the committee that the land levy made it difficult for the majority of farmers.
“Government introduced land tax as from last year but when we were given invoices, you find that land taxes have been implemented from the date one was given an offer letter. I was given an offer letter after the death of my husband in 2007, which comes into thousands of dollars — about $40 000. I don’t know how I’m going to pay that,” said Mrs Changara.
Mashonaland East secretary for A2 Farmers Association, Mr Columbus Zinyoro said there was confusion on where farmers were expected to pay their rentals between the local authority and the Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement.
According to the law, “The development levy shall be used to meet expenditure on the projects within the rural district council area from which the levy was collected.
“The projects include gully reclamation and other works related to soil conservation and prevention of soil erosion, provision, operation and maintenance of hospitals, clinics, dispensaries and schools and other educational institutions, facilities and amenities connected therewith.”