Down to the wire

23 06 2007

On Thursday night I went to an amateur presentation of Fiddler on the Roof. It was an ambitious project and rather too long for my liking but it was entertaining and worth and evening out. What made it very expensive for me was the 20 litres of diesel that disappeared out of my truck whilst I was in the show. The truck was being carefully watched by 2 security guards and another freelance “guard” who called himself “Jiminy Cricket” (actual name Theo).  I suppose I should have been suspicious of someone who claimed he was always called “Jiminy Cricket” and was just way too cheerful for the current Zimbabwean climate but in the absurd way of thinking in this country I blame myself for driving around in a vehicle with the fuel gauge on full.

Last Friday someone asked me what value I was using for the US dollar. I said 115 000 to 1. Yesterday it was around 300 000. A recent post recorded how I’d been caught out by “taking a day off” from the business and how expensive it had been. Well, I rectified that and spent a lot of the money in the bank on medium for growing seedlings.  Now I have to find the money to transport it to Harare. The transporter does not have any vehicles available until the week after next by which time the money in the bank will be nearly worthless (if he’ll accept zim dollars) so I may well have to dig into my own forex reserves which was definitely not the plan – but where does one draw the line?

Then yesterday came the wages issue. Not surprisingly the labourers refused their pay and I had to settle for 650 000 zim dollars a month. This is on top of no new orders for next month so in a meeting with the “workers committee” it was agreed that the increase came with an agreement to retrench the more recently hired staff if we have to restructure as seems increasingly likely. It was no coincidence that the workers’ committee is made up of the employees who have been around the longest. What did surprise me was the acquiescence of the rest of the labour when the deal was presented to them. Nobody, however, seemed to appreciate the gravity of the whole situation; they just seemed pleased that they were getting more money now, next month would come later. I did not broach the subject of income tax.

Zimbabwe must be the only country around where the lowest income tax bracket is set at around one third of a US cent A MONTH! At that limit you will be paying 25% of your salary to the government.  I should therefore be taxing my entire staff (it is a curious facet of the system in Zimbabwe that it is the onus of the employer to tax the staff under a system called Pay As You Earn or PAYE). Apart from being cruel the company just cannot afford it as we would have to pay proportionately more to keep people at work. So for the moment at least I am ignoring it. I am not concerned about any financial reparation further down the line as by then it will be worthless but they might just decide to forgo that and use a jail term for defrauding the tax department. The government must be aware that the poor are being taxed and it cannot be gaining them votes so I can only guess that they are desperate to get ANY money in, whatever the cost, and will deal with the vote issue when the need arises.

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