Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers manning a roadblock at Chilumba Barracks in Karonga on Tuesday evening detained five buses ferrying cross-border traders from Tanzania for allegedly under-declaring taxes on their merchandise.
The buses were detained around 9pm on Tuesday before they were released around 1pm yesterday when Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) officials arrived at the scene and took the buses to Mzuzu to verify the declarations.
One of the affected traders, who identified herself as Jacquline from Kasungu, said in an interview that after arrival at the roadblock, the soldiers suspected that some goods were under-declared, which led them to impound the vehicles.
She said: “The debate was that those who allegedly under-declared were somewhat reluctant to leave their goods behind and that led to the soldiers to stop everyone else from proceeding. We waited on an empty stomach
until Wednesday when the MRA officials came.”
In an interview yesterday, MDF spokesperson Major Kelvin Mlelemba yesterday said the roadblock was mounted for security reasons under MDF mandate.
He said: “Whenever we see anything that we know is not supposed to come into Malawi, we impound the vehicles and confisticate the items.
“That is what we do and MRA comes in with their solutions. MRA is supposed to be there [at the roadblock] and I am told they are already there.”
MRA director of corporate affairs Steve Kapoloma said the public tax collector had facilitated the buses to be cleared at their offices in Mzuzu.
“We are actually facilitating faster clearance of the buses and looking at the conditions at the roadblock, we decided that it would be better for the people to be handled in Mzuzu,” he said.
But private practice lawyer George Kadzipatike said the MDF was overstepping its mandate by handling tasks meant for MRA officers.
He said: “The MDF is not mandated to deal with tax issues in the country. That is the duty of MRA. Or, maybe they don’t trust MRA?
“If they want to be doing that, why can’t they do it jointly with MRA right at their roadblock?”
On his part, Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda, whose office is the chief legal adviser to the government, said he could not make his opinion public on the matter.
“I have just read the issues on social media, so it is difficult for me to comment,” he said