In the first quarter of 2016, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) will be introducing a tax management system which captures real-time transactional data from all registered traders.
According to a report in the Herald, this information was shared by Gershem Pasi, ZIMRA’s Commissioner General in an address to students at the National Defence College.
The new system runs on devices that will be deployed at traders’ premises and transaction points. It is set to help ZIMRA identify firms that under declare their transactions for purposes of tax evasion and is being used for both formal and informal businesses.
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It has measures to guard against users who try to switch off the devices to avoid recording transactions and ZIMRA has already deployed the system among some business operators. According to Mr Pasi some taxi drivers that were authorised during the recently held ICASA Conference in Harare using the system.
There are some obvious and significant near sight benefits for ZIMRA with this system. Revenue collection is always affected by leakages through inaccurate declarations and any system that offers an option to reduce this risk is likely to have some benefits on ZIMRA’s financial targets.
It’s hard to see how ZIMRA will corner the booming informal economy to sign up for formal tax declarations, especially when they are supported by a digital tool that makes the occasional evasive plays a bit of challenge.
However, there are still a lot of benefits that ZIMRA can enjoy from the formally registered concerns as well as the aspiring businesses targeting a formalised route to financial growth.
The real opportunity, however, lies in data collection. ZIMRA has always had one of the clearest opportunities to harvest data on various economic trends in different commercial environments.
Every major point of reference that ZIMRA has a direct interest in offers a significant data set. ZIMRA is one of the few entities that can offer data on trade patterns as well as consumption versus production figures.
Using an electronic system improves the collection and collation process, arming ZIMRA with clearer data that can be used in a number of decision-making scenarios.
Mr Gershem Pasi highlighted part of this opportunity when he touched on the information gathered being used for economic policy formulation as well as highlighting losses that are being incurred from tax evasion. That’s the macroeconomic end of the big data spin here.
If the system has a fairly sizeable uptake, it can harvest data on consumer trends and patterns, the varying levels of commercial activity and areas where investment can offer decent returns.
It’s the sort of data that would benefit every sort of decision maker – primarily the various levels of business and, also in terms of research and business model development.
If any of these benefits are to be realised, ZIMRA should also be looking at ways to package that data and avoid a situation where valuable information is gathered and just sat on. Who knows, it could even become another source of revenue for the taxman.