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SC82-21 - TRIANGLE LIMITED and HIPPO VALLEY ESTATES LIMITED vs ZIMBABWE REVENUE AUTHORITY and OTHERS

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Appealed


Procedural Law-viz declaratory order re consequential relief.
Procedural Law-viz declaratur re consequential relief.
Law of Contract-viz contract of hire re provision of services.
Tax Law-viz value added tax.
Procedural Law-viz appeal re suspension of orders pending appeal iro fiscal disoutes.
Procedural Law-viz appeal re suspension of orders pending appeal iro fiscal proceedings.
Procedural Law-viz appeal re suspension of orders pending appeal iro taxation disputes.
Procedural Law-viz appeal re suspension of orders pending appeal iro taxation proceedings.
Procedural Law-viz suspension of orders pending appeal re the rule that the noting of an appeal automatically suspends the execution of the order appealed against iro fiscal obligations.
Procedural Law-viz suspension of orders pending appeal re the principle that the noting of an appeal automatically suspends the operation of the judgment appealed against iro tax obligations.
Tax Law-viz fiscal appeal re suspension of orders pending appeal iro the pay now argue later principle.
Tax Law-viz fiscal appeals re the principle that the noting of an appeal automatically suspends the operation of the judgement appealed against iro the pay now argue later rule.
Tax Law-viz fiscal appeal re the rule that the noting of an appeal automatically suspends the execution of the order appealed against iro the pay now argue later principle.
Law of Contract-viz debt re refund.
Law of Contract-viz debt re reimbursement.
Administrative Law-viz the presumption of validity of advise given in the course of duty.
Tax Law-viz advance tax rulings re the presumption of validity of advice rendered in the course of duty.
Law of Contract-viz variation of contracts.
Law of Contract-viz variation of agreements.
Procedural Law-viz provisional order re interim interdict pending return date.
Procedural Law-viz interim interdict re provisional order pending return day.
Procedural Law-viz provisional order re interim interdict pending nothing.
Procedural Law-viz interim interdict re provisional order pending nothing.
Procedural Law-viz provisional order re the seeking of final relief through urgent applications iro mandamus.
Procedural Law-viz interim interdict re seeking final relief through urgent chamber applications iro mandatory interdict.
Procedural Law-viz rules of construction re statutory provisions iro fiscal provisions.
Procedural Law-viz rules of interpretation re statutory provisions iro tax legislation.
Tax Law-viz value added tax re section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12].
Tax Law-viz rules of construction re statutory provisions iro deeming provisions.
Tax Law-viz rules of interpretation re statutory provisions iro deeming provisions.
Procedural Law-viz appeal re findings of fact made by the primary court.
Procedural Law-viz rules of evidence re findings of fact iro conduct resulting in an estoppel.
Procedural Law-viz rules of evidence re documentary evidence.
Procedural Law-viz appeal re the exercise of discretion by the trial court.
Tax Law-viz value added tax re section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12].
Law of Contract-viz variation of contracts re statutory variations.
Law of Contract-viz variation of agreements re statutory variations.
Procedural Law-viz rules of construction re vague provisions iro intent of the legislature.
Procedural Law-viz rules of interpretation re ambiguous provisions iro legislative intent.
Tax Law-viz value added tax re section 6 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12].
Procedural Law-viz rules of construction re mandatory provisions iro use of the word "shall".
Procedural Law-viz rules of interpretation re peremptory provisions iro use of the word "shall".
Law of Contract-viz consensus ad idem re mistake.
Procedural Law-viz interim interdict re relief conflicting with lawful conduct.
Procedural Law-viz provisional order re relief overriding lawful conduct.
Procedural Law-viz final orders re relief conflicting with lawful conduct.
Procedural Law-viz final orders re relief overriding lawful conduct.
Procedural Law-viz cause of action re legal basis for invoking the jurisdiction of the court.
Procedural Law-viz costs re taxation proceedings iro section 65 of the Income Tax Act [Chapter 23:06].
Procedural Law-viz costs re fiscal proceedings iro section 65 of the Income Tax Act [Chapter 23:06].
Procedural Law-viz pleadings re abandoned pleadings.
Procedural Law-viz costs re no order as to costs.
Procedural Law-viz costs re no costs order.
Law of Contract-viz debt re statutory obligations.

Appeal, Leave to Appeal, Leave to Execute Pending Appeal re: Suspension of Orders Pending Appeal iro Fiscal Proceedings


This is an appeal against the judgment of the High Court sitting at Masvingo, delivered on 24 June 2020, which dismissed with costs the application made by the two appellants for a declaratory order and an interdict.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The two appellants are sugar-producing giants in the Lowveld while the first respondent (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) is the statutory body charged with revenue collection in Zimbabwe. The remainder of the respondents are either sugar cane farmers or associations representing such farmers (Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association, Zimbabwe Cane Farmers Association, Mkwasine Sugarcane Farmers Trust, Commercial Sugarcane Farmers Association of Zimbabwe, Hippo Valley Productive Farmers Association, Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association Royal Trust, Chipiwa Mpapa Mill Group, Chiredzi Productive Cane Growers, Farai Dumo Augustine Musikavanhu and Roy Bhila).

The respondents will be referred to in this judgment, for convenience, as Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and the farmers respectively.

The appellants and the farmers entered into two types of agreements, either a “Cane Milling Agreement” or a “Cane Purchase Agreement” in terms of which the appellants would either provide milling services to the farmers and market their sugar and molasses or outrightly purchase the sugar cane.

The dispute which arose between the parties did not involve the outright purchase and sale of sugar cane. As such this judgment does not deal with that scenario at all. The judgment concerns itself with the cane milling agreements entered into between the parties.

In terms of the cane milling agreements, the charge for milling and marketing services, payable by the farmers to the appellants, was calculated in terms of a pre-determined ratio referred to as the “Division of Proceeds” (DoP) ratio. It was fixed at 23 percent of the proceeds the farmers would get; meaning that, the appellants would retain 23 percent of the proceeds while remitting the balance of 77 percent to the farmers.

Regrettably, in fixing the milling and marketing charge, the appellants did not include Value Added Tax (VAT) as required by law. It follows, that, no Value Added Tax was paid by the appellants to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority in that regard.

It was in the process of auditing the appellants Value Added Tax (VAT) assessments for the period 2009 to 2017 that the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority decided that the milling and marketing charges of 23 percent of the proceeds levied by the appellants against the farmers attracted VAT.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority proceeded to issue assessments of value added tax (VAT) for those years and demanded payment of same from the appellants. These assessments related to the past supplies where the appellants ought to have, but failed, to collect and remit VAT to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

The appellants objected to the assessments which objections were all disallowed by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority. The appellants appealed to the Fiscal Appeals Court but paid the assessed value added tax (VAT) to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority notwithstanding.

An appeal does not exonerate a tax payer from paying the assessed tax.

Approach re: Functions & Powers of Revenue Authority, Fiscal Appeals or Objections & the Pay Now Argue Later Principle


This is an appeal against the judgment of the High Court sitting at Masvingo, delivered on 24 June 2020, which dismissed with costs the application made by the two appellants for a declaratory order and an interdict.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The two appellants are sugar-producing giants in the Lowveld while the first respondent (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) is the statutory body charged with revenue collection in Zimbabwe. The remainder of the respondents are either sugar cane farmers or associations representing such farmers (Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association, Zimbabwe Cane Farmers Association, Mkwasine Sugarcane Farmers Trust, Commercial Sugarcane Farmers Association of Zimbabwe, Hippo Valley Productive Farmers Association, Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association Royal Trust, Chipiwa Mpapa Mill Group, Chiredzi Productive Cane Growers, Farai Dumo Augustine Musikavanhu and Roy Bhila).

The respondents will be referred to in this judgment, for convenience, as Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and the farmers respectively.

The appellants and the farmers entered into two types of agreements, either a “Cane Milling Agreement” or a “Cane Purchase Agreement” in terms of which the appellants would either provide milling services to the farmers and market their sugar and molasses or outrightly purchase the sugar cane.

The dispute which arose between the parties did not involve the outright purchase and sale of sugar cane. As such this judgment does not deal with that scenario at all. The judgment concerns itself with the cane milling agreements entered into between the parties.

In terms of the cane milling agreements, the charge for milling and marketing services, payable by the farmers to the appellants, was calculated in terms of a pre-determined ratio referred to as the “Division of Proceeds” (DoP) ratio. It was fixed at 23 percent of the proceeds the farmers would get; meaning that, the appellants would retain 23 percent of the proceeds while remitting the balance of 77 percent to the farmers.

Regrettably, in fixing the milling and marketing charge, the appellants did not include Value Added Tax (VAT) as required by law. It follows, that, no Value Added Tax was paid by the appellants to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority in that regard.

It was in the process of auditing the appellants Value Added Tax (VAT) assessments for the period 2009 to 2017 that the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority decided that the milling and marketing charges of 23 percent of the proceeds levied by the appellants against the farmers attracted VAT.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority proceeded to issue assessments of value added tax (VAT) for those years and demanded payment of same from the appellants. These assessments related to the past supplies where the appellants ought to have, but failed, to collect and remit VAT to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

The appellants objected to the assessments which objections were all disallowed by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority. The appellants appealed to the Fiscal Appeals Court but paid the assessed value added tax (VAT) to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority notwithstanding.

An appeal does not exonerate a taxpayer from paying the assessed tax.

Approach re: Advance Tax Rulings, Tax Directives, Rectification of Mistakes of Law and the Doctrine of Estoppel


This is an appeal against the judgment of the High Court sitting at Masvingo, delivered on 24 June 2020, which dismissed with costs the application made by the two appellants for a declaratory order and an interdict.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The two appellants are sugar-producing giants in the Lowveld while the first respondent (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) is the statutory body charged with revenue collection in Zimbabwe. The remainder of the respondents are either sugar cane farmers or associations representing such farmers (Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association, Zimbabwe Cane Farmers Association, Mkwasine Sugarcane Farmers Trust, Commercial Sugarcane Farmers Association of Zimbabwe, Hippo Valley Productive Farmers Association, Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association Royal Trust, Chipiwa Mpapa Mill Group, Chiredzi Productive Cane Growers, Farai Dumo Augustine Musikavanhu and Roy Bhila).

The respondents will be referred to in this judgment, for convenience, as Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and the farmers respectively.

The appellants and the farmers entered into two types of agreements, either a “Cane Milling Agreement” or a “Cane Purchase Agreement” in terms of which the appellants would either provide milling services to the farmers and market their sugar and molasses or outrightly purchase the sugar cane.

The dispute which arose between the parties did not involve the outright purchase and sale of sugar cane. As such this judgment does not deal with that scenario at all. The judgment concerns itself with the cane milling agreements entered into between the parties.

In terms of the cane milling agreements, the charge for milling and marketing services, payable by the farmers to the appellants, was calculated in terms of a pre-determined ratio referred to as the “Division of Proceeds” (DoP) ratio. It was fixed at 23 percent of the proceeds the farmers would get; meaning that, the appellants would retain 23 percent of the proceeds while remitting the balance of 77 percent to the farmers.

Regrettably, in fixing the milling and marketing charge, the appellants did not include Value Added Tax (VAT) as required by law. It follows, that, no Value Added Tax was paid by the appellants to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority in that regard.

It was in the process of auditing the appellants Value Added Tax (VAT) assessments for the period 2009 to 2017 that the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority decided that the milling and marketing charges of 23 percent of the proceeds levied by the appellants against the farmers attracted VAT.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority proceeded to issue assessments of value added tax (VAT) for those years and demanded payment of same from the appellants. These assessments related to the past supplies where the appellants ought to have, but failed, to collect and remit VAT to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

The appellants objected to the assessments which objections were all disallowed by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority. The appellants appealed to the Fiscal Appeals Court but paid the assessed value added tax (VAT) to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority notwithstanding.

An appeal does not exonerate a tax payer from paying the assessed tax.

After effecting payments to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, the appellants sought to recover such value added tax (VAT) from the farmers on the basis that they were obliged to charge and collect the VAT from the consumers of the service, the farmers, but had not done so.

The appellants were of the view, that, it was only fair and reasonable that the farmers should re-imburse them of the value added tax (VAT) paid by them to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

There being no convergence between the farmers, who had obtained advice from the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, that, the 23 percent Division of Proceeds ratio was inclusive of value added tax (VAT), and the appellants, the latter filed an application in the court a quo.

In their application, the appellants sought declaratory relief that they were legally entitled to continue charging and collecting value added tax (VAT) from the farmers - over and above the 23 percent milling charge.

The appellants also sought to be reimbursed the monies they paid to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority on past assessments.

In addition, they accused the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority of interfering with contractual issues between them and the farmers by rendering advice to the farmers on the value added tax (VAT) dispute.

Accordingly, the appellants sought an order interdicting the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority from what they called “gratuitously interfering in pricing and contractual issues” between them and the farmers.

The application was opposed by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and most of the respondents.

DECISION A QUO

It was the view of the court a quo, that, the entire dispute revolved around the interpretation of section 69 and section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12].

Regarding the past supplies of sugar cane to the appellants, the court a quo found, that, the literal meaning of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act suggests, that, it is irrelevant whether the registered operator has charged VAT or not. If the price does not reflect the tax component, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act operates such that there is a presumption that a price not reflecting VAT included that tax.

It was the finding of the court a quo, that, the section serves to “estop” a registered operator, who has not reflected value added tax (VAT) on the price, from denying that the price includes that tax.

It also found, that, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act precludes such registered operator from subsequently claiming VAT not reflected on the price.

In the court a quo's view, permitting the appellants to recoup value added tax (VAT) in retrospect would render nugatory the deeming provision of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act as the deeming provision cannot be interpreted to mean different things to two different people.

Regarding the claim for value added tax (VAT) on present and future supplies of sugarcane, which the contracts of the parties are still silent on, the court a quo took the view, that, it was up to the parties to re-negotiate or clarify the terms of their contracts in order to plug the existing lacunae.

If they do not, then, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act will continue to apply.

The court a quo was not persuaded that a case was made for an interdict against the first respondent.

It recognised, that, the appellants had made a formal request to the first respondent to intervene and educate the farmers on the tax implications of their agreement. They could not, thereafter, cry foul after such intervention.

In addition, the court a quo found no evidence of the first respondent's interference with the pricing issues between the appellants and the farmers.

On the question of costs, the court a quo found no basis for departing from the general rule, that, costs follow the result. It dismissed the application with costs granted in favour of only those respondents who participated in the suit.

The appellants were aggrieved. They noted this appeal to this Court on the following grounds;

GROUNDS OF APPEAL

1. The learned judge of the court a quo erred and misdirected himself in finding that section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12] operated to preclude the appellants from recovering value added tax (VAT) for past supplies on an alleged milling service which the first respondent considered to have been rendered to farmers.

2. Further, the court a quo erred and misdirected itself in failing to pronounce, definitively, on the appellants right and entitlement to charge, levy, and collect value added tax (VAT), and the farmers respective obligation to pay same, in addition to the value of the alleged milling service, with respect to current and future supplies pursuant to the first respondent's decision to impose tax.

3. The learned Judge of the court a quo erred and misdirected himself in failing to find, that, the letter by the first respondent to the farmers, with respect to the farmers tax obligations, strayed upon purely contractual matters which it was not competent for the first respondent to prescribe to parties.

4. The court a quo erred in awarding costs against the appellants, and in favour of the respondents in general, and, at any rate, most especially as it relates to the second (Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Development Association), fifth (Commercial Sugar Cane Farmers Association of Zimbabwe), seventh (Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Development Association Royal Trust), eighth (Chipiwa Mpapa Mill Group), and tenth (Farai Dumo Augustine Musikavanhu) respondents in particular.

ISSUES

The grounds of appeal may be four, but they speak to essentially two narrow issues for determination in this appeal. They are:

1. Whether or not the court a quo erred in refusing to grant the declaratur and the interdict.

2. Whether or not the court a quo erred in granting costs against the appellants.

SUBMISSIONS ON APPEAL

Counsel for the appellants anchored his arguments on the legal effects of the decision taken by the first respondent, contained in its letter dated 9 September 2019. Following meetings held by the parties, the first respondent determined that:

“1. The VAT Act, under section 6, provides that VAT shall be charged and levied where a service is provided. Facts at hand indicated that millers provide milling services to the farmers and they retain 23% from the sugar proceeds…,.

Given the above legislative requirements, VAT is therefore applicable on the milling fees, and, as discussed in the meeting, VAT is recovered as depicted in the following scenario…,.”

It was submitted, that, the moment the first respondent made the decision to commence recovering value added tax (VAT) on milling services, when, prior to that, it had not done so, the provisions of section 72(1) of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12] were triggered.

The section provides:

“(1) Whenever the value added tax is imposed or increased in respect of any supply of goods or services in relation to which any agreement was entered into by the acceptance of an offer made before the tax was imposed or increased, as the case may be, the registered operator may, unless agreed to the contrary in any agreement in writing and notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any law, recover from the recipient, as an addition to the amounts payable by the recipient to the registered operator, a sum equal to any amount payable by the registered operator by way of the said tax on increase, as the case may be, and any amount so recoverable by the registered operator shall, whether it is recovered or not, be accounted for by the registered operator under this Act as part of the consideration in respect of the said supply.”

To the extent that value added tax (VAT) was only imposed on the milling fees, by letter quoted above, so the argument goes, when it had not been claimed previously, the appellants were entitled to recover it from the recipients of the milling services by virtue of that provision.

It was submitted, further, that, the deeming provisions of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act do not preclude the appellants from recovering the value added tax (VAT) paid to the first respondent. This is so because the section is a shield in the hands of the revenue collector. It is an administrative tool for the facilitation of easy collection of taxes without disruptive disputes with registered operators.

In counsel for the appellants view, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act cannot be used to estop the operator from recovering value added tax (VAT) paid to the collector.

Per contra, counsel for the first respondent submitted, that, given that the contracts for milling services did not reflect value added tax (VAT), section 69 of the of the Value Added Tax Act applies. To that extent, in respect of past supplies, the contract price is deemed to be inclusive of VAT.

It was submitted further, that, in the absence of an agreement with the farmers to vary the contract price, even by the application of basic principles of Contract Law, the appellants could not unilaterally vary the price by levying value added tax (VAT).

On the effects of section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act, it was submitted, that, the section may be regarded as a law–changing provision. In the event that the law changes to include value added tax (VAT), where it was not applicable, so it was argued, or to increase the applicable VAT, then, by dint of section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act, the agreement is varied accordingly.

The net effect of those submissions is that the section has no application where value added tax (VAT) was excluded in the agreement when it should have been included.

Regarding the alleged interference with contractual rights and obligations by the first respondent, counsel for the first respondent submitted, that, the advice rendered by the first respondent was not only at the invitation of the appellants themselves but also in fulfilment of a statutory obligation. The first respondent is obliged to educate taxpayers on their tax obligations.

The requirements for an interdict were not met.

Counsel for the rest of the respondents in attendance, in chorus, associated themselves with submissions made on behalf of the first respondent....,.

Counsel for the appellants did not prosecute the issue of the interdict sought against the first respondent with any degree of enthusiasm.

It is not without reason that this is so:

(a) Firstly, evidence placed before the court a quo shows, that, the appellants invited the first respondent to intervene and educate the farmers on the tax implications of their contracts with the appellants. That the first respondent interpreted their contracts in a manner not favourable to the appellants can scarcely found a cause of action.

(b) Secondly, and more importantly, the requirements for the grant of an interdict were not met.

I can only advert to the fact that the court a quo made factual findings relating to the failure by the appellants to prove that the first respondent had interfered with the contractual issues.

It also made a finding that the advice rendered by the first respondent was only confined to value added tax (VAT) matters falling within the statutory province of the first respondent as a revenue collector.

Surely, one cannot be interdicted from carrying out a lawful duty.

The court a quo also made a finding that the use of the term “gratuitously interfering” was too imprecise and unenforceable.

On appeal, the appellants failed to set out a basis for interference with those findings.

It is trite, that, it is only where the factual findings of the lower court are clearly irrational, to an extent that no sensible court seized with the same facts could have reached such a conclusion, that the Appellate Court will interfere: see Hama v National Railways of Zimbabwe 1996 (1) ZLR 664 (S); Shuro v Chiuraise SC20-19.

No such threshold was attained in the present case. As such, this Court cannot interfere.

Administrative Law re: Presumptions of Regularity and Validity of Official Documents or Advice & Doctrine of Estoppel


This is an appeal against the judgment of the High Court sitting at Masvingo, delivered on 24 June 2020, which dismissed with costs the application made by the two appellants for a declaratory order and an interdict.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The two appellants are sugar-producing giants in the Lowveld while the first respondent (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) is the statutory body charged with revenue collection in Zimbabwe. The remainder of the respondents are either sugar cane farmers or associations representing such farmers (Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association, Zimbabwe Cane Farmers Association, Mkwasine Sugarcane Farmers Trust, Commercial Sugarcane Farmers Association of Zimbabwe, Hippo Valley Productive Farmers Association, Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association Royal Trust, Chipiwa Mpapa Mill Group, Chiredzi Productive Cane Growers, Farai Dumo Augustine Musikavanhu and Roy Bhila).

The respondents will be referred to in this judgment, for convenience, as Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and the farmers respectively.

The appellants and the farmers entered into two types of agreements, either a “Cane Milling Agreement” or a “Cane Purchase Agreement” in terms of which the appellants would either provide milling services to the farmers and market their sugar and molasses or outrightly purchase the sugar cane.

The dispute which arose between the parties did not involve the outright purchase and sale of sugar cane. As such this judgment does not deal with that scenario at all. The judgment concerns itself with the cane milling agreements entered into between the parties.

In terms of the cane milling agreements, the charge for milling and marketing services, payable by the farmers to the appellants, was calculated in terms of a pre-determined ratio referred to as the “Division of Proceeds” (DoP) ratio. It was fixed at 23 percent of the proceeds the farmers would get; meaning that, the appellants would retain 23 percent of the proceeds while remitting the balance of 77 percent to the farmers.

Regrettably, in fixing the milling and marketing charge, the appellants did not include Value Added Tax (VAT) as required by law. It follows, that, no Value Added Tax was paid by the appellants to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority in that regard.

It was in the process of auditing the appellants Value Added Tax (VAT) assessments for the period 2009 to 2017 that the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority decided that the milling and marketing charges of 23 percent of the proceeds levied by the appellants against the farmers attracted VAT.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority proceeded to issue assessments of value added tax (VAT) for those years and demanded payment of same from the appellants. These assessments related to the past supplies where the appellants ought to have, but failed, to collect and remit VAT to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

The appellants objected to the assessments which objections were all disallowed by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority. The appellants appealed to the Fiscal Appeals Court but paid the assessed value added tax (VAT) to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority notwithstanding.

An appeal does not exonerate a tax payer from paying the assessed tax.

After effecting payments to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, the appellants sought to recover such value added tax (VAT) from the farmers on the basis that they were obliged to charge and collect the VAT from the consumers of the service, the farmers, but had not done so.

The appellants were of the view, that, it was only fair and reasonable that the farmers should re-imburse them of the value added tax (VAT) paid by them to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

There being no convergence between the farmers, who had obtained advice from the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, that, the 23 percent Division of Proceeds ratio was inclusive of value added tax (VAT), and the appellants, the latter filed an application in the court a quo.

In their application, the appellants sought declaratory relief that they were legally entitled to continue charging and collecting value added tax (VAT) from the farmers - over and above the 23 percent milling charge.

The appellants also sought to be reimbursed the monies they paid to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority on past assessments.

In addition, they accused the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority of interfering with contractual issues between them and the farmers by rendering advice to the farmers on the value added tax (VAT) dispute.

Accordingly, the appellants sought an order interdicting the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority from what they called “gratuitously interfering in pricing and contractual issues” between them and the farmers.

The application was opposed by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and most of the respondents.

DECISION A QUO

It was the view of the court a quo, that, the entire dispute revolved around the interpretation of section 69 and section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12].

Regarding the past supplies of sugar cane to the appellants, the court a quo found, that, the literal meaning of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act suggests, that, it is irrelevant whether the registered operator has charged VAT or not. If the price does not reflect the tax component, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act operates such that there is a presumption that a price not reflecting VAT included that tax.

It was the finding of the court a quo, that, the section serves to “estop” a registered operator, who has not reflected value added tax (VAT) on the price, from denying that the price includes that tax.

It also found, that, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act precludes such registered operator from subsequently claiming VAT not reflected on the price.

In the court a quo's view, permitting the appellants to recoup value added tax (VAT) in retrospect would render nugatory the deeming provision of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act as the deeming provision cannot be interpreted to mean different things to two different people.

Regarding the claim for value added tax (VAT) on present and future supplies of sugarcane, which the contracts of the parties are still silent on, the court a quo took the view, that, it was up to the parties to re-negotiate or clarify the terms of their contracts in order to plug the existing lacunae.

If they do not, then, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act will continue to apply.

The court a quo was not persuaded that a case was made for an interdict against the first respondent.

It recognised, that, the appellants had made a formal request to the first respondent to intervene and educate the farmers on the tax implications of their agreement. They could not, thereafter, cry foul after such intervention.

In addition, the court a quo found no evidence of the first respondent's interference with the pricing issues between the appellants and the farmers.

On the question of costs, the court a quo found no basis for departing from the general rule, that, costs follow the result. It dismissed the application with costs granted in favour of only those respondents who participated in the suit.

The appellants were aggrieved. They noted this appeal to this Court on the following grounds;

GROUNDS OF APPEAL

1. The learned judge of the court a quo erred and misdirected himself in finding that section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12] operated to preclude the appellants from recovering value added tax (VAT) for past supplies on an alleged milling service which the first respondent considered to have been rendered to farmers.

2. Further, the court a quo erred and misdirected itself in failing to pronounce, definitively, on the appellants right and entitlement to charge, levy, and collect value added tax (VAT), and the farmers respective obligation to pay same, in addition to the value of the alleged milling service, with respect to current and future supplies pursuant to the first respondent's decision to impose tax.

3. The learned Judge of the court a quo erred and misdirected himself in failing to find, that, the letter by the first respondent to the farmers, with respect to the farmers tax obligations, strayed upon purely contractual matters which it was not competent for the first respondent to prescribe to parties.

4. The court a quo erred in awarding costs against the appellants, and in favour of the respondents in general, and, at any rate, most especially as it relates to the second (Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Development Association), fifth (Commercial Sugar Cane Farmers Association of Zimbabwe), seventh (Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Development Association Royal Trust), eighth (Chipiwa Mpapa Mill Group), and tenth (Farai Dumo Augustine Musikavanhu) respondents in particular.

ISSUES

The grounds of appeal may be four, but they speak to essentially two narrow issues for determination in this appeal. They are:

1. Whether or not the court a quo erred in refusing to grant the declaratur and the interdict.

2. Whether or not the court a quo erred in granting costs against the appellants.

SUBMISSIONS ON APPEAL

Counsel for the appellants anchored his arguments on the legal effects of the decision taken by the first respondent, contained in its letter dated 9 September 2019. Following meetings held by the parties, the first respondent determined that:

“1. The VAT Act, under section 6, provides that VAT shall be charged and levied where a service is provided. Facts at hand indicated that millers provide milling services to the farmers and they retain 23% from the sugar proceeds…,.

Given the above legislative requirements, VAT is therefore applicable on the milling fees, and, as discussed in the meeting, VAT is recovered as depicted in the following scenario…,.”

It was submitted, that, the moment the first respondent made the decision to commence recovering value added tax (VAT) on milling services, when, prior to that, it had not done so, the provisions of section 72(1) of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12] were triggered.

The section provides:

“(1) Whenever the value added tax is imposed or increased in respect of any supply of goods or services in relation to which any agreement was entered into by the acceptance of an offer made before the tax was imposed or increased, as the case may be, the registered operator may, unless agreed to the contrary in any agreement in writing and notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any law, recover from the recipient, as an addition to the amounts payable by the recipient to the registered operator, a sum equal to any amount payable by the registered operator by way of the said tax on increase, as the case may be, and any amount so recoverable by the registered operator shall, whether it is recovered or not, be accounted for by the registered operator under this Act as part of the consideration in respect of the said supply.”

To the extent that value added tax (VAT) was only imposed on the milling fees, by letter quoted above, so the argument goes, when it had not been claimed previously, the appellants were entitled to recover it from the recipients of the milling services by virtue of that provision.

It was submitted, further, that, the deeming provisions of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act do not preclude the appellants from recovering the value added tax (VAT) paid to the first respondent. This is so because the section is a shield in the hands of the revenue collector. It is an administrative tool for the facilitation of easy collection of taxes without disruptive disputes with registered operators.

In counsel for the appellants view, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act cannot be used to estop the operator from recovering value added tax (VAT) paid to the collector.

Per contra, counsel for the first respondent submitted, that, given that the contracts for milling services did not reflect value added tax (VAT), section 69 of the of the Value Added Tax Act applies. To that extent, in respect of past supplies, the contract price is deemed to be inclusive of VAT.

It was submitted further, that, in the absence of an agreement with the farmers to vary the contract price, even by the application of basic principles of Contract Law, the appellants could not unilaterally vary the price by levying value added tax (VAT).

On the effects of section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act, it was submitted, that, the section may be regarded as a law–changing provision. In the event that the law changes to include value added tax (VAT), where it was not applicable, so it was argued, or to increase the applicable VAT, then, by dint of section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act, the agreement is varied accordingly.

The net effect of those submissions is that the section has no application where value added tax (VAT) was excluded in the agreement when it should have been included.

Regarding the alleged interference with contractual rights and obligations by the first respondent, counsel for the first respondent submitted, that, the advice rendered by the first respondent was not only at the invitation of the appellants themselves but also in fulfilment of a statutory obligation. The first respondent is obliged to educate taxpayers on their tax obligations.

The requirements for an interdict were not met.

Counsel for the rest of the respondents in attendance, in chorus, associated themselves with submissions made on behalf of the first respondent....,.

Counsel for the appellants did not prosecute the issue of the interdict sought against the first respondent with any degree of enthusiasm.

It is not without reason that this is so:

(a) Firstly, evidence placed before the court a quo shows, that, the appellants invited the first respondent to intervene and educate the farmers on the tax implications of their contracts with the appellants. That the first respondent interpreted their contracts in a manner not favourable to the appellants can scarcely found a cause of action.

(b) Secondly, and more importantly, the requirements for the grant of an interdict were not met.

I can only advert to the fact that the court a quo made factual findings relating to the failure by the appellants to prove that the first respondent had interfered with the contractual issues.

It also made a finding that the advice rendered by the first respondent was only confined to value added tax (VAT) matters falling within the statutory province of the first respondent as a revenue collector.

Surely, one cannot be interdicted from carrying out a lawful duty.

The court a quo also made a finding that the use of the term “gratuitously interfering” was too imprecise and unenforceable.

On appeal, the appellants failed to set out a basis for interference with those findings.

It is trite, that, it is only where the factual findings of the lower court are clearly irrational, to an extent that no sensible court seized with the same facts could have reached such a conclusion, that the Appellate Court will interfere: see Hama v National Railways of Zimbabwe 1996 (1) ZLR 664 (S); Shuro v Chiuraise SC20-19.

No such threshold was attained in the present case. As such, this Court cannot interfere.

Interim Interdict Pendente Confirmation or Discharge Proceedings re: Approach, Return Date and the Prima Facie Concept


This is an appeal against the judgment of the High Court sitting at Masvingo, delivered on 24 June 2020, which dismissed with costs the application made by the two appellants for a declaratory order and an interdict.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The two appellants are sugar-producing giants in the Lowveld while the first respondent (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) is the statutory body charged with revenue collection in Zimbabwe. The remainder of the respondents are either sugar cane farmers or associations representing such farmers (Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association, Zimbabwe Cane Farmers Association, Mkwasine Sugarcane Farmers Trust, Commercial Sugarcane Farmers Association of Zimbabwe, Hippo Valley Productive Farmers Association, Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association Royal Trust, Chipiwa Mpapa Mill Group, Chiredzi Productive Cane Growers, Farai Dumo Augustine Musikavanhu and Roy Bhila).

The respondents will be referred to in this judgment, for convenience, as Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and the farmers respectively.

The appellants and the farmers entered into two types of agreements, either a “Cane Milling Agreement” or a “Cane Purchase Agreement” in terms of which the appellants would either provide milling services to the farmers and market their sugar and molasses or outrightly purchase the sugar cane.

The dispute which arose between the parties did not involve the outright purchase and sale of sugar cane. As such this judgment does not deal with that scenario at all. The judgment concerns itself with the cane milling agreements entered into between the parties.

In terms of the cane milling agreements, the charge for milling and marketing services, payable by the farmers to the appellants, was calculated in terms of a pre-determined ratio referred to as the “Division of Proceeds” (DoP) ratio. It was fixed at 23 percent of the proceeds the farmers would get; meaning that, the appellants would retain 23 percent of the proceeds while remitting the balance of 77 percent to the farmers.

Regrettably, in fixing the milling and marketing charge, the appellants did not include Value Added Tax (VAT) as required by law. It follows, that, no Value Added Tax was paid by the appellants to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority in that regard.

It was in the process of auditing the appellants Value Added Tax (VAT) assessments for the period 2009 to 2017 that the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority decided that the milling and marketing charges of 23 percent of the proceeds levied by the appellants against the farmers attracted VAT.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority proceeded to issue assessments of value added tax (VAT) for those years and demanded payment of same from the appellants. These assessments related to the past supplies where the appellants ought to have, but failed, to collect and remit VAT to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

The appellants objected to the assessments which objections were all disallowed by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority. The appellants appealed to the Fiscal Appeals Court but paid the assessed value added tax (VAT) to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority notwithstanding.

An appeal does not exonerate a tax payer from paying the assessed tax.

After effecting payments to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, the appellants sought to recover such value added tax (VAT) from the farmers on the basis that they were obliged to charge and collect the VAT from the consumers of the service, the farmers, but had not done so.

The appellants were of the view, that, it was only fair and reasonable that the farmers should re-imburse them of the value added tax (VAT) paid by them to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

There being no convergence between the farmers, who had obtained advice from the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, that, the 23 percent Division of Proceeds ratio was inclusive of value added tax (VAT), and the appellants, the latter filed an application in the court a quo.

In their application, the appellants sought declaratory relief that they were legally entitled to continue charging and collecting value added tax (VAT) from the farmers - over and above the 23 percent milling charge.

The appellants also sought to be reimbursed the monies they paid to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority on past assessments.

In addition, they accused the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority of interfering with contractual issues between them and the farmers by rendering advice to the farmers on the value added tax (VAT) dispute.

Accordingly, the appellants sought an order interdicting the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority from what they called “gratuitously interfering in pricing and contractual issues” between them and the farmers.

The application was opposed by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and most of the respondents.

DECISION A QUO

It was the view of the court a quo, that, the entire dispute revolved around the interpretation of section 69 and section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12].

Regarding the past supplies of sugar cane to the appellants, the court a quo found, that, the literal meaning of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act suggests, that, it is irrelevant whether the registered operator has charged VAT or not. If the price does not reflect the tax component, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act operates such that there is a presumption that a price not reflecting VAT included that tax.

It was the finding of the court a quo, that, the section serves to “estop” a registered operator, who has not reflected value added tax (VAT) on the price, from denying that the price includes that tax.

It also found, that, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act precludes such registered operator from subsequently claiming VAT not reflected on the price.

In the court a quo's view, permitting the appellants to recoup value added tax (VAT) in retrospect would render nugatory the deeming provision of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act as the deeming provision cannot be interpreted to mean different things to two different people.

Regarding the claim for value added tax (VAT) on present and future supplies of sugarcane, which the contracts of the parties are still silent on, the court a quo took the view, that, it was up to the parties to re-negotiate or clarify the terms of their contracts in order to plug the existing lacunae.

If they do not, then, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act will continue to apply.

The court a quo was not persuaded that a case was made for an interdict against the first respondent.

It recognised, that, the appellants had made a formal request to the first respondent to intervene and educate the farmers on the tax implications of their agreement. They could not, thereafter, cry foul after such intervention.

In addition, the court a quo found no evidence of the first respondent's interference with the pricing issues between the appellants and the farmers.

On the question of costs, the court a quo found no basis for departing from the general rule, that, costs follow the result. It dismissed the application with costs granted in favour of only those respondents who participated in the suit.

The appellants were aggrieved. They noted this appeal to this Court on the following grounds;

GROUNDS OF APPEAL

1. The learned judge of the court a quo erred and misdirected himself in finding that section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12] operated to preclude the appellants from recovering value added tax (VAT) for past supplies on an alleged milling service which the first respondent considered to have been rendered to farmers.

2. Further, the court a quo erred and misdirected itself in failing to pronounce, definitively, on the appellants right and entitlement to charge, levy, and collect value added tax (VAT), and the farmers respective obligation to pay same, in addition to the value of the alleged milling service, with respect to current and future supplies pursuant to the first respondent's decision to impose tax.

3. The learned Judge of the court a quo erred and misdirected himself in failing to find, that, the letter by the first respondent to the farmers, with respect to the farmers tax obligations, strayed upon purely contractual matters which it was not competent for the first respondent to prescribe to parties.

4. The court a quo erred in awarding costs against the appellants, and in favour of the respondents in general, and, at any rate, most especially as it relates to the second (Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Development Association), fifth (Commercial Sugar Cane Farmers Association of Zimbabwe), seventh (Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Development Association Royal Trust), eighth (Chipiwa Mpapa Mill Group), and tenth (Farai Dumo Augustine Musikavanhu) respondents in particular.

ISSUES

The grounds of appeal may be four, but they speak to essentially two narrow issues for determination in this appeal. They are:

1. Whether or not the court a quo erred in refusing to grant the declaratur and the interdict.

2. Whether or not the court a quo erred in granting costs against the appellants.

SUBMISSIONS ON APPEAL

Counsel for the appellants anchored his arguments on the legal effects of the decision taken by the first respondent, contained in its letter dated 9 September 2019. Following meetings held by the parties, the first respondent determined that:

“1. The VAT Act, under section 6, provides that VAT shall be charged and levied where a service is provided. Facts at hand indicated that millers provide milling services to the farmers and they retain 23% from the sugar proceeds…,.

Given the above legislative requirements, VAT is therefore applicable on the milling fees, and, as discussed in the meeting, VAT is recovered as depicted in the following scenario…,.”

It was submitted, that, the moment the first respondent made the decision to commence recovering value added tax (VAT) on milling services, when, prior to that, it had not done so, the provisions of section 72(1) of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12] were triggered.

The section provides:

“(1) Whenever the value added tax is imposed or increased in respect of any supply of goods or services in relation to which any agreement was entered into by the acceptance of an offer made before the tax was imposed or increased, as the case may be, the registered operator may, unless agreed to the contrary in any agreement in writing and notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any law, recover from the recipient, as an addition to the amounts payable by the recipient to the registered operator, a sum equal to any amount payable by the registered operator by way of the said tax on increase, as the case may be, and any amount so recoverable by the registered operator shall, whether it is recovered or not, be accounted for by the registered operator under this Act as part of the consideration in respect of the said supply.”

To the extent that value added tax (VAT) was only imposed on the milling fees, by letter quoted above, so the argument goes, when it had not been claimed previously, the appellants were entitled to recover it from the recipients of the milling services by virtue of that provision.

It was submitted, further, that, the deeming provisions of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act do not preclude the appellants from recovering the value added tax (VAT) paid to the first respondent. This is so because the section is a shield in the hands of the revenue collector. It is an administrative tool for the facilitation of easy collection of taxes without disruptive disputes with registered operators.

In counsel for the appellants view, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act cannot be used to estop the operator from recovering value added tax (VAT) paid to the collector.

Per contra, counsel for the first respondent submitted, that, given that the contracts for milling services did not reflect value added tax (VAT), section 69 of the of the Value Added Tax Act applies. To that extent, in respect of past supplies, the contract price is deemed to be inclusive of VAT.

It was submitted further, that, in the absence of an agreement with the farmers to vary the contract price, even by the application of basic principles of Contract Law, the appellants could not unilaterally vary the price by levying value added tax (VAT).

On the effects of section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act, it was submitted, that, the section may be regarded as a law–changing provision. In the event that the law changes to include value added tax (VAT), where it was not applicable, so it was argued, or to increase the applicable VAT, then, by dint of section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act, the agreement is varied accordingly.

The net effect of those submissions is that the section has no application where value added tax (VAT) was excluded in the agreement when it should have been included.

Regarding the alleged interference with contractual rights and obligations by the first respondent, counsel for the first respondent submitted, that, the advice rendered by the first respondent was not only at the invitation of the appellants themselves but also in fulfilment of a statutory obligation. The first respondent is obliged to educate taxpayers on their tax obligations.

The requirements for an interdict were not met.

Counsel for the rest of the respondents in attendance, in chorus, associated themselves with submissions made on behalf of the first respondent....,.

Counsel for the appellants did not prosecute the issue of the interdict sought against the first respondent with any degree of enthusiasm.

It is not without reason that this is so:

(a) Firstly, evidence placed before the court a quo shows, that, the appellants invited the first respondent to intervene and educate the farmers on the tax implications of their contracts with the appellants. That the first respondent interpreted their contracts in a manner not favourable to the appellants can scarcely found a cause of action.

(b) Secondly, and more importantly, the requirements for the grant of an interdict were not met.

I can only advert to the fact that the court a quo made factual findings relating to the failure by the appellants to prove that the first respondent had interfered with the contractual issues.

It also made a finding that the advice rendered by the first respondent was only confined to value added tax (VAT) matters falling within the statutory province of the first respondent as a revenue collector.

Surely, one cannot be interdicted from carrying out a lawful duty.

The court a quo also made a finding that the use of the term “gratuitously interfering” was too imprecise and unenforceable.

On appeal, the appellants failed to set out a basis for interference with those findings.

It is trite, that, it is only where the factual findings of the lower court are clearly irrational, to an extent that no sensible court seized with the same facts could have reached such a conclusion, that the Appellate Court will interfere: see Hama v National Railways of Zimbabwe 1996 (1) ZLR 664 (S); Shuro v Chiuraise SC20-19.

No such threshold was attained in the present case. As such, this Court cannot interfere.

Interim Interdict or Final Order re: Mandamus or Mandatory Interdict and the Seeking or Granting of Final Interdicts


This is an appeal against the judgment of the High Court sitting at Masvingo, delivered on 24 June 2020, which dismissed with costs the application made by the two appellants for a declaratory order and an interdict.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The two appellants are sugar-producing giants in the Lowveld while the first respondent (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) is the statutory body charged with revenue collection in Zimbabwe. The remainder of the respondents are either sugar cane farmers or associations representing such farmers (Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association, Zimbabwe Cane Farmers Association, Mkwasine Sugarcane Farmers Trust, Commercial Sugarcane Farmers Association of Zimbabwe, Hippo Valley Productive Farmers Association, Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association Royal Trust, Chipiwa Mpapa Mill Group, Chiredzi Productive Cane Growers, Farai Dumo Augustine Musikavanhu and Roy Bhila).

The respondents will be referred to in this judgment, for convenience, as Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and the farmers respectively.

The appellants and the farmers entered into two types of agreements, either a “Cane Milling Agreement” or a “Cane Purchase Agreement” in terms of which the appellants would either provide milling services to the farmers and market their sugar and molasses or outrightly purchase the sugar cane.

The dispute which arose between the parties did not involve the outright purchase and sale of sugar cane. As such this judgment does not deal with that scenario at all. The judgment concerns itself with the cane milling agreements entered into between the parties.

In terms of the cane milling agreements, the charge for milling and marketing services, payable by the farmers to the appellants, was calculated in terms of a pre-determined ratio referred to as the “Division of Proceeds” (DoP) ratio. It was fixed at 23 percent of the proceeds the farmers would get; meaning that, the appellants would retain 23 percent of the proceeds while remitting the balance of 77 percent to the farmers.

Regrettably, in fixing the milling and marketing charge, the appellants did not include Value Added Tax (VAT) as required by law. It follows, that, no Value Added Tax was paid by the appellants to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority in that regard.

It was in the process of auditing the appellants Value Added Tax (VAT) assessments for the period 2009 to 2017 that the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority decided that the milling and marketing charges of 23 percent of the proceeds levied by the appellants against the farmers attracted VAT.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority proceeded to issue assessments of value added tax (VAT) for those years and demanded payment of same from the appellants. These assessments related to the past supplies where the appellants ought to have, but failed, to collect and remit VAT to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

The appellants objected to the assessments which objections were all disallowed by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority. The appellants appealed to the Fiscal Appeals Court but paid the assessed value added tax (VAT) to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority notwithstanding.

An appeal does not exonerate a tax payer from paying the assessed tax.

After effecting payments to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, the appellants sought to recover such value added tax (VAT) from the farmers on the basis that they were obliged to charge and collect the VAT from the consumers of the service, the farmers, but had not done so.

The appellants were of the view, that, it was only fair and reasonable that the farmers should re-imburse them of the value added tax (VAT) paid by them to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

There being no convergence between the farmers, who had obtained advice from the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, that, the 23 percent Division of Proceeds ratio was inclusive of value added tax (VAT), and the appellants, the latter filed an application in the court a quo.

In their application, the appellants sought declaratory relief that they were legally entitled to continue charging and collecting value added tax (VAT) from the farmers - over and above the 23 percent milling charge.

The appellants also sought to be reimbursed the monies they paid to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority on past assessments.

In addition, they accused the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority of interfering with contractual issues between them and the farmers by rendering advice to the farmers on the value added tax (VAT) dispute.

Accordingly, the appellants sought an order interdicting the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority from what they called “gratuitously interfering in pricing and contractual issues” between them and the farmers.

The application was opposed by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and most of the respondents.

DECISION A QUO

It was the view of the court a quo, that, the entire dispute revolved around the interpretation of section 69 and section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12].

Regarding the past supplies of sugar cane to the appellants, the court a quo found, that, the literal meaning of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act suggests, that, it is irrelevant whether the registered operator has charged VAT or not. If the price does not reflect the tax component, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act operates such that there is a presumption that a price not reflecting VAT included that tax.

It was the finding of the court a quo, that, the section serves to “estop” a registered operator, who has not reflected value added tax (VAT) on the price, from denying that the price includes that tax.

It also found, that, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act precludes such registered operator from subsequently claiming VAT not reflected on the price.

In the court a quo's view, permitting the appellants to recoup value added tax (VAT) in retrospect would render nugatory the deeming provision of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act as the deeming provision cannot be interpreted to mean different things to two different people.

Regarding the claim for value added tax (VAT) on present and future supplies of sugarcane, which the contracts of the parties are still silent on, the court a quo took the view, that, it was up to the parties to re-negotiate or clarify the terms of their contracts in order to plug the existing lacunae.

If they do not, then, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act will continue to apply.

The court a quo was not persuaded that a case was made for an interdict against the first respondent.

It recognised, that, the appellants had made a formal request to the first respondent to intervene and educate the farmers on the tax implications of their agreement. They could not, thereafter, cry foul after such intervention.

In addition, the court a quo found no evidence of the first respondent's interference with the pricing issues between the appellants and the farmers.

On the question of costs, the court a quo found no basis for departing from the general rule, that, costs follow the result. It dismissed the application with costs granted in favour of only those respondents who participated in the suit.

The appellants were aggrieved. They noted this appeal to this Court on the following grounds;

GROUNDS OF APPEAL

1. The learned judge of the court a quo erred and misdirected himself in finding that section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12] operated to preclude the appellants from recovering value added tax (VAT) for past supplies on an alleged milling service which the first respondent considered to have been rendered to farmers.

2. Further, the court a quo erred and misdirected itself in failing to pronounce, definitively, on the appellants right and entitlement to charge, levy, and collect value added tax (VAT), and the farmers respective obligation to pay same, in addition to the value of the alleged milling service, with respect to current and future supplies pursuant to the first respondent's decision to impose tax.

3. The learned Judge of the court a quo erred and misdirected himself in failing to find, that, the letter by the first respondent to the farmers, with respect to the farmers tax obligations, strayed upon purely contractual matters which it was not competent for the first respondent to prescribe to parties.

4. The court a quo erred in awarding costs against the appellants, and in favour of the respondents in general, and, at any rate, most especially as it relates to the second (Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Development Association), fifth (Commercial Sugar Cane Farmers Association of Zimbabwe), seventh (Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Development Association Royal Trust), eighth (Chipiwa Mpapa Mill Group), and tenth (Farai Dumo Augustine Musikavanhu) respondents in particular.

ISSUES

The grounds of appeal may be four, but they speak to essentially two narrow issues for determination in this appeal. They are:

1. Whether or not the court a quo erred in refusing to grant the declaratur and the interdict.

2. Whether or not the court a quo erred in granting costs against the appellants.

SUBMISSIONS ON APPEAL

Counsel for the appellants anchored his arguments on the legal effects of the decision taken by the first respondent, contained in its letter dated 9 September 2019. Following meetings held by the parties, the first respondent determined that:

“1. The VAT Act, under section 6, provides that VAT shall be charged and levied where a service is provided. Facts at hand indicated that millers provide milling services to the farmers and they retain 23% from the sugar proceeds…,.

Given the above legislative requirements, VAT is therefore applicable on the milling fees, and, as discussed in the meeting, VAT is recovered as depicted in the following scenario…,.”

It was submitted, that, the moment the first respondent made the decision to commence recovering value added tax (VAT) on milling services, when, prior to that, it had not done so, the provisions of section 72(1) of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12] were triggered.

The section provides:

“(1) Whenever the value added tax is imposed or increased in respect of any supply of goods or services in relation to which any agreement was entered into by the acceptance of an offer made before the tax was imposed or increased, as the case may be, the registered operator may, unless agreed to the contrary in any agreement in writing and notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any law, recover from the recipient, as an addition to the amounts payable by the recipient to the registered operator, a sum equal to any amount payable by the registered operator by way of the said tax on increase, as the case may be, and any amount so recoverable by the registered operator shall, whether it is recovered or not, be accounted for by the registered operator under this Act as part of the consideration in respect of the said supply.”

To the extent that value added tax (VAT) was only imposed on the milling fees, by letter quoted above, so the argument goes, when it had not been claimed previously, the appellants were entitled to recover it from the recipients of the milling services by virtue of that provision.

It was submitted, further, that, the deeming provisions of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act do not preclude the appellants from recovering the value added tax (VAT) paid to the first respondent. This is so because the section is a shield in the hands of the revenue collector. It is an administrative tool for the facilitation of easy collection of taxes without disruptive disputes with registered operators.

In counsel for the appellants view, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act cannot be used to estop the operator from recovering value added tax (VAT) paid to the collector.

Per contra, counsel for the first respondent submitted, that, given that the contracts for milling services did not reflect value added tax (VAT), section 69 of the of the Value Added Tax Act applies. To that extent, in respect of past supplies, the contract price is deemed to be inclusive of VAT.

It was submitted further, that, in the absence of an agreement with the farmers to vary the contract price, even by the application of basic principles of Contract Law, the appellants could not unilaterally vary the price by levying value added tax (VAT).

On the effects of section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act, it was submitted, that, the section may be regarded as a law–changing provision. In the event that the law changes to include value added tax (VAT), where it was not applicable, so it was argued, or to increase the applicable VAT, then, by dint of section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act, the agreement is varied accordingly.

The net effect of those submissions is that the section has no application where value added tax (VAT) was excluded in the agreement when it should have been included.

Regarding the alleged interference with contractual rights and obligations by the first respondent, counsel for the first respondent submitted, that, the advice rendered by the first respondent was not only at the invitation of the appellants themselves but also in fulfilment of a statutory obligation. The first respondent is obliged to educate taxpayers on their tax obligations.

The requirements for an interdict were not met.

Counsel for the rest of the respondents in attendance, in chorus, associated themselves with submissions made on behalf of the first respondent....,.

Counsel for the appellants did not prosecute the issue of the interdict sought against the first respondent with any degree of enthusiasm.

It is not without reason that this is so:

(a) Firstly, evidence placed before the court a quo shows, that, the appellants invited the first respondent to intervene and educate the farmers on the tax implications of their contracts with the appellants. That the first respondent interpreted their contracts in a manner not favourable to the appellants can scarcely found a cause of action.

(b) Secondly, and more importantly, the requirements for the grant of an interdict were not met.

I can only advert to the fact that the court a quo made factual findings relating to the failure by the appellants to prove that the first respondent had interfered with the contractual issues.

It also made a finding that the advice rendered by the first respondent was only confined to value added tax (VAT) matters falling within the statutory province of the first respondent as a revenue collector.

Surely, one cannot be interdicted from carrying out a lawful duty.

The court a quo also made a finding that the use of the term “gratuitously interfering” was too imprecise and unenforceable.

On appeal, the appellants failed to set out a basis for interference with those findings.

It is trite, that, it is only where the factual findings of the lower court are clearly irrational, to an extent that no sensible court seized with the same facts could have reached such a conclusion, that the Appellate Court will interfere: see Hama v National Railways of Zimbabwe 1996 (1) ZLR 664 (S); Shuro v Chiuraise SC20-19.

No such threshold was attained in the present case. As such, this Court cannot interfere.

Interim Interdict or Final Order re: Relief Conflicting with Statutes, Extant Court Orders & Prima Facie Lawful Conduct


This is an appeal against the judgment of the High Court sitting at Masvingo, delivered on 24 June 2020, which dismissed with costs the application made by the two appellants for a declaratory order and an interdict.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The two appellants are sugar-producing giants in the Lowveld while the first respondent (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) is the statutory body charged with revenue collection in Zimbabwe. The remainder of the respondents are either sugar cane farmers or associations representing such farmers (Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association, Zimbabwe Cane Farmers Association, Mkwasine Sugarcane Farmers Trust, Commercial Sugarcane Farmers Association of Zimbabwe, Hippo Valley Productive Farmers Association, Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association Royal Trust, Chipiwa Mpapa Mill Group, Chiredzi Productive Cane Growers, Farai Dumo Augustine Musikavanhu and Roy Bhila).

The respondents will be referred to in this judgment, for convenience, as Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and the farmers respectively.

The appellants and the farmers entered into two types of agreements, either a “Cane Milling Agreement” or a “Cane Purchase Agreement” in terms of which the appellants would either provide milling services to the farmers and market their sugar and molasses or outrightly purchase the sugar cane.

The dispute which arose between the parties did not involve the outright purchase and sale of sugar cane. As such this judgment does not deal with that scenario at all. The judgment concerns itself with the cane milling agreements entered into between the parties.

In terms of the cane milling agreements, the charge for milling and marketing services, payable by the farmers to the appellants, was calculated in terms of a pre-determined ratio referred to as the “Division of Proceeds” (DoP) ratio. It was fixed at 23 percent of the proceeds the farmers would get; meaning that, the appellants would retain 23 percent of the proceeds while remitting the balance of 77 percent to the farmers.

Regrettably, in fixing the milling and marketing charge, the appellants did not include Value Added Tax (VAT) as required by law. It follows, that, no Value Added Tax was paid by the appellants to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority in that regard.

It was in the process of auditing the appellants Value Added Tax (VAT) assessments for the period 2009 to 2017 that the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority decided that the milling and marketing charges of 23 percent of the proceeds levied by the appellants against the farmers attracted VAT.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority proceeded to issue assessments of value added tax (VAT) for those years and demanded payment of same from the appellants. These assessments related to the past supplies where the appellants ought to have, but failed, to collect and remit VAT to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

The appellants objected to the assessments which objections were all disallowed by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority. The appellants appealed to the Fiscal Appeals Court but paid the assessed value added tax (VAT) to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority notwithstanding.

An appeal does not exonerate a tax payer from paying the assessed tax.

After effecting payments to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, the appellants sought to recover such value added tax (VAT) from the farmers on the basis that they were obliged to charge and collect the VAT from the consumers of the service, the farmers, but had not done so.

The appellants were of the view, that, it was only fair and reasonable that the farmers should re-imburse them of the value added tax (VAT) paid by them to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

There being no convergence between the farmers, who had obtained advice from the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, that, the 23 percent Division of Proceeds ratio was inclusive of value added tax (VAT), and the appellants, the latter filed an application in the court a quo.

In their application, the appellants sought declaratory relief that they were legally entitled to continue charging and collecting value added tax (VAT) from the farmers - over and above the 23 percent milling charge.

The appellants also sought to be reimbursed the monies they paid to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority on past assessments.

In addition, they accused the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority of interfering with contractual issues between them and the farmers by rendering advice to the farmers on the value added tax (VAT) dispute.

Accordingly, the appellants sought an order interdicting the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority from what they called “gratuitously interfering in pricing and contractual issues” between them and the farmers.

The application was opposed by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and most of the respondents.

DECISION A QUO

It was the view of the court a quo, that, the entire dispute revolved around the interpretation of section 69 and section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12].

Regarding the past supplies of sugar cane to the appellants, the court a quo found, that, the literal meaning of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act suggests, that, it is irrelevant whether the registered operator has charged VAT or not. If the price does not reflect the tax component, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act operates such that there is a presumption that a price not reflecting VAT included that tax.

It was the finding of the court a quo, that, the section serves to “estop” a registered operator, who has not reflected value added tax (VAT) on the price, from denying that the price includes that tax.

It also found, that, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act precludes such registered operator from subsequently claiming VAT not reflected on the price.

In the court a quo's view, permitting the appellants to recoup value added tax (VAT) in retrospect would render nugatory the deeming provision of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act as the deeming provision cannot be interpreted to mean different things to two different people.

Regarding the claim for value added tax (VAT) on present and future supplies of sugarcane, which the contracts of the parties are still silent on, the court a quo took the view, that, it was up to the parties to re-negotiate or clarify the terms of their contracts in order to plug the existing lacunae.

If they do not, then, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act will continue to apply.

The court a quo was not persuaded that a case was made for an interdict against the first respondent.

It recognised, that, the appellants had made a formal request to the first respondent to intervene and educate the farmers on the tax implications of their agreement. They could not, thereafter, cry foul after such intervention.

In addition, the court a quo found no evidence of the first respondent's interference with the pricing issues between the appellants and the farmers.

On the question of costs, the court a quo found no basis for departing from the general rule, that, costs follow the result. It dismissed the application with costs granted in favour of only those respondents who participated in the suit.

The appellants were aggrieved. They noted this appeal to this Court on the following grounds;

GROUNDS OF APPEAL

1. The learned judge of the court a quo erred and misdirected himself in finding that section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12] operated to preclude the appellants from recovering value added tax (VAT) for past supplies on an alleged milling service which the first respondent considered to have been rendered to farmers.

2. Further, the court a quo erred and misdirected itself in failing to pronounce, definitively, on the appellants right and entitlement to charge, levy, and collect value added tax (VAT), and the farmers respective obligation to pay same, in addition to the value of the alleged milling service, with respect to current and future supplies pursuant to the first respondent's decision to impose tax.

3. The learned Judge of the court a quo erred and misdirected himself in failing to find, that, the letter by the first respondent to the farmers, with respect to the farmers tax obligations, strayed upon purely contractual matters which it was not competent for the first respondent to prescribe to parties.

4. The court a quo erred in awarding costs against the appellants, and in favour of the respondents in general, and, at any rate, most especially as it relates to the second (Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Development Association), fifth (Commercial Sugar Cane Farmers Association of Zimbabwe), seventh (Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Development Association Royal Trust), eighth (Chipiwa Mpapa Mill Group), and tenth (Farai Dumo Augustine Musikavanhu) respondents in particular.

ISSUES

The grounds of appeal may be four, but they speak to essentially two narrow issues for determination in this appeal. They are:

1. Whether or not the court a quo erred in refusing to grant the declaratur and the interdict.

2. Whether or not the court a quo erred in granting costs against the appellants.

SUBMISSIONS ON APPEAL

Counsel for the appellants anchored his arguments on the legal effects of the decision taken by the first respondent, contained in its letter dated 9 September 2019. Following meetings held by the parties, the first respondent determined that:

“1. The VAT Act, under section 6, provides that VAT shall be charged and levied where a service is provided. Facts at hand indicated that millers provide milling services to the farmers and they retain 23% from the sugar proceeds…,.

Given the above legislative requirements, VAT is therefore applicable on the milling fees, and, as discussed in the meeting, VAT is recovered as depicted in the following scenario…,.”

It was submitted, that, the moment the first respondent made the decision to commence recovering value added tax (VAT) on milling services, when, prior to that, it had not done so, the provisions of section 72(1) of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12] were triggered.

The section provides:

“(1) Whenever the value added tax is imposed or increased in respect of any supply of goods or services in relation to which any agreement was entered into by the acceptance of an offer made before the tax was imposed or increased, as the case may be, the registered operator may, unless agreed to the contrary in any agreement in writing and notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any law, recover from the recipient, as an addition to the amounts payable by the recipient to the registered operator, a sum equal to any amount payable by the registered operator by way of the said tax on increase, as the case may be, and any amount so recoverable by the registered operator shall, whether it is recovered or not, be accounted for by the registered operator under this Act as part of the consideration in respect of the said supply.”

To the extent that value added tax (VAT) was only imposed on the milling fees, by letter quoted above, so the argument goes, when it had not been claimed previously, the appellants were entitled to recover it from the recipients of the milling services by virtue of that provision.

It was submitted, further, that, the deeming provisions of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act do not preclude the appellants from recovering the value added tax (VAT) paid to the first respondent. This is so because the section is a shield in the hands of the revenue collector. It is an administrative tool for the facilitation of easy collection of taxes without disruptive disputes with registered operators.

In counsel for the appellants view, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act cannot be used to estop the operator from recovering value added tax (VAT) paid to the collector.

Per contra, counsel for the first respondent submitted, that, given that the contracts for milling services did not reflect value added tax (VAT), section 69 of the of the Value Added Tax Act applies. To that extent, in respect of past supplies, the contract price is deemed to be inclusive of VAT.

It was submitted further, that, in the absence of an agreement with the farmers to vary the contract price, even by the application of basic principles of Contract Law, the appellants could not unilaterally vary the price by levying value added tax (VAT).

On the effects of section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act, it was submitted, that, the section may be regarded as a law–changing provision. In the event that the law changes to include value added tax (VAT), where it was not applicable, so it was argued, or to increase the applicable VAT, then, by dint of section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act, the agreement is varied accordingly.

The net effect of those submissions is that the section has no application where value added tax (VAT) was excluded in the agreement when it should have been included.

Regarding the alleged interference with contractual rights and obligations by the first respondent, counsel for the first respondent submitted, that, the advice rendered by the first respondent was not only at the invitation of the appellants themselves but also in fulfilment of a statutory obligation. The first respondent is obliged to educate taxpayers on their tax obligations.

The requirements for an interdict were not met.

Counsel for the rest of the respondents in attendance, in chorus, associated themselves with submissions made on behalf of the first respondent....,.

Counsel for the appellants did not prosecute the issue of the interdict sought against the first respondent with any degree of enthusiasm.

It is not without reason that this is so:

(a) Firstly, evidence placed before the court a quo shows, that, the appellants invited the first respondent to intervene and educate the farmers on the tax implications of their contracts with the appellants. That the first respondent interpreted their contracts in a manner not favourable to the appellants can scarcely found a cause of action.

(b) Secondly, and more importantly, the requirements for the grant of an interdict were not met.

I can only advert to the fact that the court a quo made factual findings relating to the failure by the appellants to prove that the first respondent had interfered with the contractual issues.

It also made a finding that the advice rendered by the first respondent was only confined to value added tax (VAT) matters falling within the statutory province of the first respondent as a revenue collector.

Surely, one cannot be interdicted from carrying out a lawful duty.

The court a quo also made a finding that the use of the term “gratuitously interfering” was too imprecise and unenforceable.

On appeal, the appellants failed to set out a basis for interference with those findings.

It is trite, that, it is only where the factual findings of the lower court are clearly irrational, to an extent that no sensible court seized with the same facts could have reached such a conclusion, that the Appellate Court will interfere: see Hama v National Railways of Zimbabwe 1996 (1) ZLR 664 (S); Shuro v Chiuraise SC20-19.

No such threshold was attained in the present case. As such, this Court cannot interfere.

Findings of Fact re: Assessment of Evidence and Inferences iro Evidentiary Concessions & Conduct Resulting in Estoppel


This is an appeal against the judgment of the High Court sitting at Masvingo, delivered on 24 June 2020, which dismissed with costs the application made by the two appellants for a declaratory order and an interdict.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The two appellants are sugar-producing giants in the Lowveld while the first respondent (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) is the statutory body charged with revenue collection in Zimbabwe. The remainder of the respondents are either sugar cane farmers or associations representing such farmers (Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association, Zimbabwe Cane Farmers Association, Mkwasine Sugarcane Farmers Trust, Commercial Sugarcane Farmers Association of Zimbabwe, Hippo Valley Productive Farmers Association, Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association Royal Trust, Chipiwa Mpapa Mill Group, Chiredzi Productive Cane Growers, Farai Dumo Augustine Musikavanhu and Roy Bhila).

The respondents will be referred to in this judgment, for convenience, as Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and the farmers respectively.

The appellants and the farmers entered into two types of agreements, either a “Cane Milling Agreement” or a “Cane Purchase Agreement” in terms of which the appellants would either provide milling services to the farmers and market their sugar and molasses or outrightly purchase the sugar cane.

The dispute which arose between the parties did not involve the outright purchase and sale of sugar cane. As such this judgment does not deal with that scenario at all. The judgment concerns itself with the cane milling agreements entered into between the parties.

In terms of the cane milling agreements, the charge for milling and marketing services, payable by the farmers to the appellants, was calculated in terms of a pre-determined ratio referred to as the “Division of Proceeds” (DoP) ratio. It was fixed at 23 percent of the proceeds the farmers would get; meaning that, the appellants would retain 23 percent of the proceeds while remitting the balance of 77 percent to the farmers.

Regrettably, in fixing the milling and marketing charge, the appellants did not include Value Added Tax (VAT) as required by law. It follows, that, no Value Added Tax was paid by the appellants to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority in that regard.

It was in the process of auditing the appellants Value Added Tax (VAT) assessments for the period 2009 to 2017 that the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority decided that the milling and marketing charges of 23 percent of the proceeds levied by the appellants against the farmers attracted VAT.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority proceeded to issue assessments of value added tax (VAT) for those years and demanded payment of same from the appellants. These assessments related to the past supplies where the appellants ought to have, but failed, to collect and remit VAT to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

The appellants objected to the assessments which objections were all disallowed by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority. The appellants appealed to the Fiscal Appeals Court but paid the assessed value added tax (VAT) to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority notwithstanding.

An appeal does not exonerate a tax payer from paying the assessed tax.

After effecting payments to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, the appellants sought to recover such value added tax (VAT) from the farmers on the basis that they were obliged to charge and collect the VAT from the consumers of the service, the farmers, but had not done so.

The appellants were of the view, that, it was only fair and reasonable that the farmers should re-imburse them of the value added tax (VAT) paid by them to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

There being no convergence between the farmers, who had obtained advice from the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, that, the 23 percent Division of Proceeds ratio was inclusive of value added tax (VAT), and the appellants, the latter filed an application in the court a quo.

In their application, the appellants sought declaratory relief that they were legally entitled to continue charging and collecting value added tax (VAT) from the farmers - over and above the 23 percent milling charge.

The appellants also sought to be reimbursed the monies they paid to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority on past assessments.

In addition, they accused the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority of interfering with contractual issues between them and the farmers by rendering advice to the farmers on the value added tax (VAT) dispute.

Accordingly, the appellants sought an order interdicting the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority from what they called “gratuitously interfering in pricing and contractual issues” between them and the farmers.

The application was opposed by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and most of the respondents.

DECISION A QUO

It was the view of the court a quo, that, the entire dispute revolved around the interpretation of section 69 and section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12].

Regarding the past supplies of sugar cane to the appellants, the court a quo found, that, the literal meaning of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act suggests, that, it is irrelevant whether the registered operator has charged VAT or not. If the price does not reflect the tax component, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act operates such that there is a presumption that a price not reflecting VAT included that tax.

It was the finding of the court a quo, that, the section serves to “estop” a registered operator, who has not reflected value added tax (VAT) on the price, from denying that the price includes that tax.

It also found, that, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act precludes such registered operator from subsequently claiming VAT not reflected on the price.

In the court a quo's view, permitting the appellants to recoup value added tax (VAT) in retrospect would render nugatory the deeming provision of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act as the deeming provision cannot be interpreted to mean different things to two different people.

Regarding the claim for value added tax (VAT) on present and future supplies of sugarcane, which the contracts of the parties are still silent on, the court a quo took the view, that, it was up to the parties to re-negotiate or clarify the terms of their contracts in order to plug the existing lacunae.

If they do not, then, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act will continue to apply.

The court a quo was not persuaded that a case was made for an interdict against the first respondent.

It recognised, that, the appellants had made a formal request to the first respondent to intervene and educate the farmers on the tax implications of their agreement. They could not, thereafter, cry foul after such intervention.

In addition, the court a quo found no evidence of the first respondent's interference with the pricing issues between the appellants and the farmers.

On the question of costs, the court a quo found no basis for departing from the general rule, that, costs follow the result. It dismissed the application with costs granted in favour of only those respondents who participated in the suit.

The appellants were aggrieved. They noted this appeal to this Court on the following grounds;

GROUNDS OF APPEAL

1. The learned judge of the court a quo erred and misdirected himself in finding that section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12] operated to preclude the appellants from recovering value added tax (VAT) for past supplies on an alleged milling service which the first respondent considered to have been rendered to farmers.

2. Further, the court a quo erred and misdirected itself in failing to pronounce, definitively, on the appellants right and entitlement to charge, levy, and collect value added tax (VAT), and the farmers respective obligation to pay same, in addition to the value of the alleged milling service, with respect to current and future supplies pursuant to the first respondent's decision to impose tax.

3. The learned Judge of the court a quo erred and misdirected himself in failing to find, that, the letter by the first respondent to the farmers, with respect to the farmers tax obligations, strayed upon purely contractual matters which it was not competent for the first respondent to prescribe to parties.

4. The court a quo erred in awarding costs against the appellants, and in favour of the respondents in general, and, at any rate, most especially as it relates to the second (Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Development Association), fifth (Commercial Sugar Cane Farmers Association of Zimbabwe), seventh (Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Development Association Royal Trust), eighth (Chipiwa Mpapa Mill Group), and tenth (Farai Dumo Augustine Musikavanhu) respondents in particular.

ISSUES

The grounds of appeal may be four, but they speak to essentially two narrow issues for determination in this appeal. They are:

1. Whether or not the court a quo erred in refusing to grant the declaratur and the interdict.

2. Whether or not the court a quo erred in granting costs against the appellants.

SUBMISSIONS ON APPEAL

Counsel for the appellants anchored his arguments on the legal effects of the decision taken by the first respondent, contained in its letter dated 9 September 2019. Following meetings held by the parties, the first respondent determined that:

“1. The VAT Act, under section 6, provides that VAT shall be charged and levied where a service is provided. Facts at hand indicated that millers provide milling services to the farmers and they retain 23% from the sugar proceeds…,.

Given the above legislative requirements, VAT is therefore applicable on the milling fees, and, as discussed in the meeting, VAT is recovered as depicted in the following scenario…,.”

It was submitted, that, the moment the first respondent made the decision to commence recovering value added tax (VAT) on milling services, when, prior to that, it had not done so, the provisions of section 72(1) of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12] were triggered.

The section provides:

“(1) Whenever the value added tax is imposed or increased in respect of any supply of goods or services in relation to which any agreement was entered into by the acceptance of an offer made before the tax was imposed or increased, as the case may be, the registered operator may, unless agreed to the contrary in any agreement in writing and notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any law, recover from the recipient, as an addition to the amounts payable by the recipient to the registered operator, a sum equal to any amount payable by the registered operator by way of the said tax on increase, as the case may be, and any amount so recoverable by the registered operator shall, whether it is recovered or not, be accounted for by the registered operator under this Act as part of the consideration in respect of the said supply.”

To the extent that value added tax (VAT) was only imposed on the milling fees, by letter quoted above, so the argument goes, when it had not been claimed previously, the appellants were entitled to recover it from the recipients of the milling services by virtue of that provision.

It was submitted, further, that, the deeming provisions of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act do not preclude the appellants from recovering the value added tax (VAT) paid to the first respondent. This is so because the section is a shield in the hands of the revenue collector. It is an administrative tool for the facilitation of easy collection of taxes without disruptive disputes with registered operators.

In counsel for the appellants view, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act cannot be used to estop the operator from recovering value added tax (VAT) paid to the collector.

Per contra, counsel for the first respondent submitted, that, given that the contracts for milling services did not reflect value added tax (VAT), section 69 of the of the Value Added Tax Act applies. To that extent, in respect of past supplies, the contract price is deemed to be inclusive of VAT.

It was submitted further, that, in the absence of an agreement with the farmers to vary the contract price, even by the application of basic principles of Contract Law, the appellants could not unilaterally vary the price by levying value added tax (VAT).

On the effects of section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act, it was submitted, that, the section may be regarded as a law–changing provision. In the event that the law changes to include value added tax (VAT), where it was not applicable, so it was argued, or to increase the applicable VAT, then, by dint of section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act, the agreement is varied accordingly.

The net effect of those submissions is that the section has no application where value added tax (VAT) was excluded in the agreement when it should have been included.

Regarding the alleged interference with contractual rights and obligations by the first respondent, counsel for the first respondent submitted, that, the advice rendered by the first respondent was not only at the invitation of the appellants themselves but also in fulfilment of a statutory obligation. The first respondent is obliged to educate taxpayers on their tax obligations.

The requirements for an interdict were not met.

Counsel for the rest of the respondents in attendance, in chorus, associated themselves with submissions made on behalf of the first respondent....,.

Counsel for the appellants did not prosecute the issue of the interdict sought against the first respondent with any degree of enthusiasm.

It is not without reason that this is so:

(a) Firstly, evidence placed before the court a quo shows, that, the appellants invited the first respondent to intervene and educate the farmers on the tax implications of their contracts with the appellants. That the first respondent interpreted their contracts in a manner not favourable to the appellants can scarcely found a cause of action.

(b) Secondly, and more importantly, the requirements for the grant of an interdict were not met.

I can only advert to the fact that the court a quo made factual findings relating to the failure by the appellants to prove that the first respondent had interfered with the contractual issues.

It also made a finding that the advice rendered by the first respondent was only confined to value added tax (VAT) matters falling within the statutory province of the first respondent as a revenue collector.

Surely, one cannot be interdicted from carrying out a lawful duty.

The court a quo also made a finding that the use of the term “gratuitously interfering” was too imprecise and unenforceable.

On appeal, the appellants failed to set out a basis for interference with those findings.

It is trite, that, it is only where the factual findings of the lower court are clearly irrational, to an extent that no sensible court seized with the same facts could have reached such a conclusion, that the Appellate Court will interfere: see Hama v National Railways of Zimbabwe 1996 (1) ZLR 664 (S); Shuro v Chiuraise SC20-19.

No such threshold was attained in the present case. As such, this Court cannot interfere.

Final Orders re: Approach iro Functions, Powers, Obligations, Judicial Misdirections and Effect of Court Orders


It is trite, that, it is only where the factual findings of the lower court are clearly irrational, to an extent that no sensible court seized with the same facts could have reached such a conclusion, that the Appellate Court will interfere: see Hama v National Railways of Zimbabwe 1996 (1) ZLR 664 (S); Shuro v Chiuraise SC20-19.

Value Added Tax


This is an appeal against the judgment of the High Court sitting at Masvingo, delivered on 24 June 2020, which dismissed with costs the application made by the two appellants for a declaratory order and an interdict.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The two appellants are sugar-producing giants in the Lowveld while the first respondent (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) is the statutory body charged with revenue collection in Zimbabwe. The remainder of the respondents are either sugar cane farmers or associations representing such farmers (Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association, Zimbabwe Cane Farmers Association, Mkwasine Sugarcane Farmers Trust, Commercial Sugarcane Farmers Association of Zimbabwe, Hippo Valley Productive Farmers Association, Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association Royal Trust, Chipiwa Mpapa Mill Group, Chiredzi Productive Cane Growers, Farai Dumo Augustine Musikavanhu and Roy Bhila).

The respondents will be referred to in this judgment, for convenience, as Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and the farmers respectively.

The appellants and the farmers entered into two types of agreements, either a “Cane Milling Agreement” or a “Cane Purchase Agreement” in terms of which the appellants would either provide milling services to the farmers and market their sugar and molasses or outrightly purchase the sugar cane.

The dispute which arose between the parties did not involve the outright purchase and sale of sugar cane. As such this judgment does not deal with that scenario at all. The judgment concerns itself with the cane milling agreements entered into between the parties.

In terms of the cane milling agreements, the charge for milling and marketing services, payable by the farmers to the appellants, was calculated in terms of a pre-determined ratio referred to as the “Division of Proceeds” (DoP) ratio. It was fixed at 23 percent of the proceeds the farmers would get; meaning that, the appellants would retain 23 percent of the proceeds while remitting the balance of 77 percent to the farmers.

Regrettably, in fixing the milling and marketing charge, the appellants did not include Value Added Tax (VAT) as required by law. It follows, that, no Value Added Tax was paid by the appellants to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority in that regard.

It was in the process of auditing the appellants Value Added Tax (VAT) assessments for the period 2009 to 2017 that the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority decided that the milling and marketing charges of 23 percent of the proceeds levied by the appellants against the farmers attracted VAT.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority proceeded to issue assessments of value added tax (VAT) for those years and demanded payment of same from the appellants. These assessments related to the past supplies where the appellants ought to have, but failed, to collect and remit VAT to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

The appellants objected to the assessments which objections were all disallowed by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority. The appellants appealed to the Fiscal Appeals Court but paid the assessed value added tax (VAT) to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority notwithstanding.

An appeal does not exonerate a tax payer from paying the assessed tax.

After effecting payments to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, the appellants sought to recover such value added tax (VAT) from the farmers on the basis that they were obliged to charge and collect the VAT from the consumers of the service, the farmers, but had not done so.

The appellants were of the view, that, it was only fair and reasonable that the farmers should re-imburse them of the value added tax (VAT) paid by them to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

There being no convergence between the farmers, who had obtained advice from the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, that, the 23 percent Division of Proceeds ratio was inclusive of value added tax (VAT), and the appellants, the latter filed an application in the court a quo.

In their application, the appellants sought declaratory relief that they were legally entitled to continue charging and collecting value added tax (VAT) from the farmers - over and above the 23 percent milling charge.

The appellants also sought to be reimbursed the monies they paid to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority on past assessments.

In addition, they accused the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority of interfering with contractual issues between them and the farmers by rendering advice to the farmers on the value added tax (VAT) dispute.

Accordingly, the appellants sought an order interdicting the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority from what they called “gratuitously interfering in pricing and contractual issues” between them and the farmers.

The application was opposed by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and most of the respondents.

DECISION A QUO

It was the view of the court a quo, that, the entire dispute revolved around the interpretation of section 69 and section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12].

Regarding the past supplies of sugar cane to the appellants, the court a quo found, that, the literal meaning of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act suggests, that, it is irrelevant whether the registered operator has charged VAT or not. If the price does not reflect the tax component, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act operates such that there is a presumption that a price not reflecting VAT included that tax.

It was the finding of the court a quo, that, the section serves to “estop” a registered operator, who has not reflected value added tax (VAT) on the price, from denying that the price includes that tax.

It also found, that, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act precludes such registered operator from subsequently claiming VAT not reflected on the price.

In the court a quo's view, permitting the appellants to recoup value added tax (VAT) in retrospect would render nugatory the deeming provision of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act as the deeming provision cannot be interpreted to mean different things to two different people.

Regarding the claim for value added tax (VAT) on present and future supplies of sugarcane, which the contracts of the parties are still silent on, the court a quo took the view, that, it was up to the parties to re-negotiate or clarify the terms of their contracts in order to plug the existing lacunae.

If they do not, then, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act will continue to apply.

The court a quo was not persuaded that a case was made for an interdict against the first respondent.

It recognised, that, the appellants had made a formal request to the first respondent to intervene and educate the farmers on the tax implications of their agreement. They could not, thereafter, cry foul after such intervention.

In addition, the court a quo found no evidence of the first respondent's interference with the pricing issues between the appellants and the farmers.

On the question of costs, the court a quo found no basis for departing from the general rule, that, costs follow the result. It dismissed the application with costs granted in favour of only those respondents who participated in the suit.

The appellants were aggrieved. They noted this appeal to this Court on the following grounds;

GROUNDS OF APPEAL

1. The learned judge of the court a quo erred and misdirected himself in finding that section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12] operated to preclude the appellants from recovering value added tax (VAT) for past supplies on an alleged milling service which the first respondent considered to have been rendered to farmers.

2. Further, the court a quo erred and misdirected itself in failing to pronounce, definitively, on the appellants right and entitlement to charge, levy, and collect value added tax (VAT), and the farmers respective obligation to pay same, in addition to the value of the alleged milling service, with respect to current and future supplies pursuant to the first respondent's decision to impose tax.

3. The learned Judge of the court a quo erred and misdirected himself in failing to find, that, the letter by the first respondent to the farmers, with respect to the farmers tax obligations, strayed upon purely contractual matters which it was not competent for the first respondent to prescribe to parties.

4. The court a quo erred in awarding costs against the appellants, and in favour of the respondents in general, and, at any rate, most especially as it relates to the second (Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Development Association), fifth (Commercial Sugar Cane Farmers Association of Zimbabwe), seventh (Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Development Association Royal Trust), eighth (Chipiwa Mpapa Mill Group), and tenth (Farai Dumo Augustine Musikavanhu) respondents in particular.

ISSUES

The grounds of appeal may be four, but they speak to essentially two narrow issues for determination in this appeal. They are:

1. Whether or not the court a quo erred in refusing to grant the declaratur and the interdict.

2. Whether or not the court a quo erred in granting costs against the appellants.

SUBMISSIONS ON APPEAL

Counsel for the appellants anchored his arguments on the legal effects of the decision taken by the first respondent, contained in its letter dated 9 September 2019. Following meetings held by the parties, the first respondent determined that:

“1. The VAT Act, under section 6, provides that VAT shall be charged and levied where a service is provided. Facts at hand indicated that millers provide milling services to the farmers and they retain 23% from the sugar proceeds…,.

Given the above legislative requirements, VAT is therefore applicable on the milling fees, and, as discussed in the meeting, VAT is recovered as depicted in the following scenario…,.”

It was submitted, that, the moment the first respondent made the decision to commence recovering value added tax (VAT) on milling services, when, prior to that, it had not done so, the provisions of section 72(1) of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12] were triggered.

The section provides:

“(1) Whenever the value added tax is imposed or increased in respect of any supply of goods or services in relation to which any agreement was entered into by the acceptance of an offer made before the tax was imposed or increased, as the case may be, the registered operator may, unless agreed to the contrary in any agreement in writing and notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any law, recover from the recipient, as an addition to the amounts payable by the recipient to the registered operator, a sum equal to any amount payable by the registered operator by way of the said tax on increase, as the case may be, and any amount so recoverable by the registered operator shall, whether it is recovered or not, be accounted for by the registered operator under this Act as part of the consideration in respect of the said supply.”

To the extent that value added tax (VAT) was only imposed on the milling fees, by letter quoted above, so the argument goes, when it had not been claimed previously, the appellants were entitled to recover it from the recipients of the milling services by virtue of that provision.

It was submitted, further, that, the deeming provisions of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act do not preclude the appellants from recovering the value added tax (VAT) paid to the first respondent. This is so because the section is a shield in the hands of the revenue collector. It is an administrative tool for the facilitation of easy collection of taxes without disruptive disputes with registered operators.

In counsel for the appellants view, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act cannot be used to estop the operator from recovering value added tax (VAT) paid to the collector.

Per contra, counsel for the first respondent submitted, that, given that the contracts for milling services did not reflect value added tax (VAT), section 69 of the of the Value Added Tax Act applies. To that extent, in respect of past supplies, the contract price is deemed to be inclusive of VAT.

It was submitted further, that, in the absence of an agreement with the farmers to vary the contract price, even by the application of basic principles of Contract Law, the appellants could not unilaterally vary the price by levying value added tax (VAT).

On the effects of section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act, it was submitted, that, the section may be regarded as a law–changing provision. In the event that the law changes to include value added tax (VAT), where it was not applicable, so it was argued, or to increase the applicable VAT, then, by dint of section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act, the agreement is varied accordingly.

The net effect of those submissions is that the section has no application where value added tax (VAT) was excluded in the agreement when it should have been included.

Regarding the alleged interference with contractual rights and obligations by the first respondent, counsel for the first respondent submitted, that, the advice rendered by the first respondent was not only at the invitation of the appellants themselves but also in fulfilment of a statutory obligation. The first respondent is obliged to educate taxpayers on their tax obligations.

The requirements for an interdict were not met.

Counsel for the rest of the respondents in attendance, in chorus, associated themselves with submissions made on behalf of the first respondent.

ANALYSIS

In as much as the record of appeal and the submissions made by counsel are heavy, what has to be decided has become very narrow indeed. The entire appeal turns on the effect of the deeming provision in section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12].

In particular, whether it operates to prevent a registered operator who has fallen foul of the law, by not reflecting value added tax (VAT) on the price of goods and services, from later recouping the VAT demanded by the first respondent from the consumer.

A fortiori, whether section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act applies to a situation where the registered operator has excluded or not reflected value added tax (VAT) on the price of goods and services even though the law required such registered operator to levy and reflect VAT on the price.

Section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act varies the contract price by the margin of value added tax (VAT) imposed or increased subsequent to the contract being concluded.

I agree with counsel for the first respondent, that, it is a law-changing provision as it clearly relates to the imposition of a new tax or the increase of an existing tax.

It is common cause that the burden of paying value added tax (VAT) lies with the consumer of goods and services.

The system of value added tax (VAT) collection existing in this jurisdiction was succinctly summarised by the court in Zimbabwe Revenue Authority v Packers International (Private) Limited 2016 (2) ZLR 84 (S)…, thus:

“The system of collection of VAT, as embodied in the VAT Act, involves the imposition of tax at each step along the chain of manufacture of goods or the provision of services subject to VAT.

Consequently, every registered operator is required, in terms of section 28 of the VAT Act, to submit returns to the Commissioner of Taxes ('the Commissioner') every month, calculate the VAT due on the return, and make payment of such VAT.

Due to the sheer volume and complexity of the VAT collection system, ZIMRA lacks the capacity and manpower to effectively monitor each and every transaction liable to VAT, and, as a consequence, it is heavily reliant on the self-assessment process by registered operators.

However, in order to ensure that operators comply with the requirements to render returns and collect VAT, ZIMRA conducts periodic investigations as well as audits.”

In terms of the value added tax (VAT) collection system which is in place, while the burden to pay resides with the consumer of goods and services, the registered operator bears the burden of collecting VAT and remitting it to the revenue collector.

Where the registered operator has omitted, as required by section 6(1) of the Value Added Tax Act, to include value added tax (VAT) on the price, section 69(1) of the Value Added Tax Act is activated to deem VAT to be included in whatever price is pegged by the operator.

Section 6(1) of the Value Added Tax Act is very clear in its wording, it provides:

“Subject to this Act, there shall be charged, levied, and collected, for the benefit of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, a tax, at such rate as may be fixed by the Charging Act, on the value of -

(a) The supply, by any registered operator, of goods or services supplied by him on or after the 1st January 2004, in the course or furtherance of any trade carried on by him:”

What it means is, that, by failing to charge, levy, and collect value added tax (VAT) from the consumers of their milling services, the appellants breached, to their peril, the peremptory provisions of section 6(1) of the Value Added Tax Act.

By operation of section 69(1) of the Value Added Tax Act, the 23 percent charge for milling services was taken to include VAT for all intents and purposes.

The court a quo cannot be faulted for finding, that, whether by inadvertence, oversight, or misinterpretation of the nature of the contract, the consequence of the failure to specifically include value added tax (VAT) are that it is deemed included in the milling price.

The deeming provision cannot be applied differently on the registered operator and the consumer.

As regards the question whether section 72(1) of the Value Added Tax Act rescues the appellants from the consequences of their failure to comply with the peremptory provisions of section 6(1)(a) of the Value Added Tax Act, it is clearly a matter of statutory interpretation.

In my view, the simple grammatical meaning of the words “whenever the value added tax is imposed or increased in respect of any supply of goods and services…,” is that, in the first instance, there would be no tax on such supply and the law steps in to impose a tax.

In the second instance, the law would have imposed a tax on the supply but it moves in to increase the value of tax.

In both instances, the parties would have contracted in certain terms before the law changes.

Upon change of the law, section 72(1) of the Value Added Tax Act comes in to vary the terms of a pre-existing contract to either impose or increase the tax.

I do not agree with counsel for the appellants submission, that, upon conducting an audit which revealed that the appellants were rendering a taxable milling service while not levying and collecting tax, the first respondent imposed a tax.

In my view, the law had already imposed the tax, but the appellants were committing an infraction by not reflecting it.

Again, the court a quo was correct in concluding, that, there was no imposition of a “new tax” nor an increase of chargeable tax.

Accordingly, section 72(1) of the Value Added Tax Act has no application and is certainly not available to the appellants.

Counsel for the appellants did not prosecute the issue of the interdict sought against the first respondent with any degree of enthusiasm.

It is not without reason that this is so:

(a) Firstly, evidence placed before the court a quo shows, that, the appellants invited the first respondent to intervene and educate the farmers on the tax implications of their contracts with the appellants. That the first respondent interpreted their contracts in a manner not favourable to the appellants can scarcely found a cause of action.

(b) Secondly, and more importantly, the requirements for the grant of an interdict were not met.

I can only advert to the fact that the court a quo made factual findings relating to the failure by the appellants to prove that the first respondent had interfered with the contractual issues.

It also made a finding that the advice rendered by the first respondent was only confined to value added tax (VAT) matters falling within the statutory province of the first respondent as a revenue collector.

Surely, one cannot be interdicted from carrying out a lawful duty.

The court a quo also made a finding that the use of the term “gratuitously interfering” was too imprecise and unenforceable.

On appeal, the appellants failed to set out a basis for interference with those findings.

It is trite, that, it is only where the factual findings of the lower court are clearly irrational, to an extent that no sensible court seized with the same facts could have reached such a conclusion, that the Appellate Court will interfere: see Hama v National Railways of Zimbabwe 1996 (1) ZLR 664 (S); Shuro v Chiuraise SC20-19.

No such threshold was attained in the present case. As such, this Court cannot interfere.

It remains for me to deal with the question of costs.

The court a quo granted costs against the appellants in favour of those respondents who participated in the proceedings.

It premised its decision on the general rule that costs follow the result.

Its attention was not drawn to the widely held principle, in tax cases, that, the High Court or the Special Court, is loathe to make an order as to costs save where the claim is held to be unreasonable or the grounds of appeal are frivolous: see section 65(12) of the Income Tax Act [Chapter 23:06].

On appeal, counsel, again, did not address that issue at all.

It occurs to me, that, the court a quo was incapacitated in respect of costs by the failure to bring its attention to the prevailing jurisprudence on such costs. As a result, it misdirected itself, a misdirection entitling this Court to interfere with its exercise of discretion.

There is nothing in this case suggesting that the appellants case was unreasonable or that it was frivolous.

Quite to the contrary, they raised quite pertinent issues which required the court to embark on a detailed interpretation of the law. The same applies to the appeal.

In my view, this is a classic case in which the costs, both a quo and in this Court, should not be awarded to any party.

In the result, it be and is hereby ordered as follows:

1. The appeal, in respect of grounds of appeal 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3 is dismissed with each party to bear its own costs.

2. The appeal, in respect of ground of appeal 2.4, is upheld.

3. The judgment of the court a quo is amended by the deletion of paragraph 5 and its substitution with the following:

“5. Each party shall bear its own costs.”

Approach re: Contract of Hire, Letting, Supply of Goods and Services, Service Agreements and Fiscal Considerations


This is an appeal against the judgment of the High Court sitting at Masvingo, delivered on 24 June 2020, which dismissed with costs the application made by the two appellants for a declaratory order and an interdict.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The two appellants are sugar-producing giants in the Lowveld while the first respondent (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) is the statutory body charged with revenue collection in Zimbabwe. The remainder of the respondents are either sugar cane farmers or associations representing such farmers (Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association, Zimbabwe Cane Farmers Association, Mkwasine Sugarcane Farmers Trust, Commercial Sugarcane Farmers Association of Zimbabwe, Hippo Valley Productive Farmers Association, Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association Royal Trust, Chipiwa Mpapa Mill Group, Chiredzi Productive Cane Growers, Farai Dumo Augustine Musikavanhu and Roy Bhila).

The respondents will be referred to in this judgment, for convenience, as Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and the farmers respectively.

The appellants and the farmers entered into two types of agreements, either a “Cane Milling Agreement” or a “Cane Purchase Agreement” in terms of which the appellants would either provide milling services to the farmers and market their sugar and molasses or outrightly purchase the sugar cane.

The dispute which arose between the parties did not involve the outright purchase and sale of sugar cane. As such this judgment does not deal with that scenario at all. The judgment concerns itself with the cane milling agreements entered into between the parties.

In terms of the cane milling agreements, the charge for milling and marketing services, payable by the farmers to the appellants, was calculated in terms of a pre-determined ratio referred to as the “Division of Proceeds” (DoP) ratio. It was fixed at 23 percent of the proceeds the farmers would get; meaning that, the appellants would retain 23 percent of the proceeds while remitting the balance of 77 percent to the farmers.

Regrettably, in fixing the milling and marketing charge, the appellants did not include Value Added Tax (VAT) as required by law. It follows, that, no Value Added Tax was paid by the appellants to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority in that regard.

It was in the process of auditing the appellants Value Added Tax (VAT) assessments for the period 2009 to 2017 that the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority decided that the milling and marketing charges of 23 percent of the proceeds levied by the appellants against the farmers attracted VAT.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority proceeded to issue assessments of value added tax (VAT) for those years and demanded payment of same from the appellants. These assessments related to the past supplies where the appellants ought to have, but failed, to collect and remit VAT to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

The appellants objected to the assessments which objections were all disallowed by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority. The appellants appealed to the Fiscal Appeals Court but paid the assessed value added tax (VAT) to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority notwithstanding.

An appeal does not exonerate a tax payer from paying the assessed tax.

After effecting payments to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, the appellants sought to recover such value added tax (VAT) from the farmers on the basis that they were obliged to charge and collect the VAT from the consumers of the service, the farmers, but had not done so.

The appellants were of the view, that, it was only fair and reasonable that the farmers should re-imburse them of the value added tax (VAT) paid by them to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

There being no convergence between the farmers, who had obtained advice from the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, that, the 23 percent Division of Proceeds ratio was inclusive of value added tax (VAT), and the appellants, the latter filed an application in the court a quo.

In their application, the appellants sought declaratory relief that they were legally entitled to continue charging and collecting value added tax (VAT) from the farmers - over and above the 23 percent milling charge.

The appellants also sought to be reimbursed the monies they paid to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority on past assessments.

In addition, they accused the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority of interfering with contractual issues between them and the farmers by rendering advice to the farmers on the value added tax (VAT) dispute.

Accordingly, the appellants sought an order interdicting the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority from what they called “gratuitously interfering in pricing and contractual issues” between them and the farmers.

The application was opposed by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and most of the respondents.

DECISION A QUO

It was the view of the court a quo, that, the entire dispute revolved around the interpretation of section 69 and section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12].

Regarding the past supplies of sugar cane to the appellants, the court a quo found, that, the literal meaning of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act suggests, that, it is irrelevant whether the registered operator has charged VAT or not. If the price does not reflect the tax component, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act operates such that there is a presumption that a price not reflecting VAT included that tax.

It was the finding of the court a quo, that, the section serves to “estop” a registered operator, who has not reflected value added tax (VAT) on the price, from denying that the price includes that tax.

It also found, that, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act precludes such registered operator from subsequently claiming VAT not reflected on the price.

In the court a quo's view, permitting the appellants to recoup value added tax (VAT) in retrospect would render nugatory the deeming provision of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act as the deeming provision cannot be interpreted to mean different things to two different people.

Regarding the claim for value added tax (VAT) on present and future supplies of sugarcane, which the contracts of the parties are still silent on, the court a quo took the view, that, it was up to the parties to re-negotiate or clarify the terms of their contracts in order to plug the existing lacunae.

If they do not, then, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act will continue to apply.

The court a quo was not persuaded that a case was made for an interdict against the first respondent.

It recognised, that, the appellants had made a formal request to the first respondent to intervene and educate the farmers on the tax implications of their agreement. They could not, thereafter, cry foul after such intervention.

In addition, the court a quo found no evidence of the first respondent's interference with the pricing issues between the appellants and the farmers.

On the question of costs, the court a quo found no basis for departing from the general rule, that, costs follow the result. It dismissed the application with costs granted in favour of only those respondents who participated in the suit.

The appellants were aggrieved. They noted this appeal to this Court on the following grounds;

GROUNDS OF APPEAL

1. The learned judge of the court a quo erred and misdirected himself in finding that section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12] operated to preclude the appellants from recovering value added tax (VAT) for past supplies on an alleged milling service which the first respondent considered to have been rendered to farmers.

2. Further, the court a quo erred and misdirected itself in failing to pronounce, definitively, on the appellants right and entitlement to charge, levy, and collect value added tax (VAT), and the farmers respective obligation to pay same, in addition to the value of the alleged milling service, with respect to current and future supplies pursuant to the first respondent's decision to impose tax.

3. The learned Judge of the court a quo erred and misdirected himself in failing to find, that, the letter by the first respondent to the farmers, with respect to the farmers tax obligations, strayed upon purely contractual matters which it was not competent for the first respondent to prescribe to parties.

4. The court a quo erred in awarding costs against the appellants, and in favour of the respondents in general, and, at any rate, most especially as it relates to the second (Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Development Association), fifth (Commercial Sugar Cane Farmers Association of Zimbabwe), seventh (Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Development Association Royal Trust), eighth (Chipiwa Mpapa Mill Group), and tenth (Farai Dumo Augustine Musikavanhu) respondents in particular.

ISSUES

The grounds of appeal may be four, but they speak to essentially two narrow issues for determination in this appeal. They are:

1. Whether or not the court a quo erred in refusing to grant the declaratur and the interdict.

2. Whether or not the court a quo erred in granting costs against the appellants.

SUBMISSIONS ON APPEAL

Counsel for the appellants anchored his arguments on the legal effects of the decision taken by the first respondent, contained in its letter dated 9 September 2019. Following meetings held by the parties, the first respondent determined that:

“1. The VAT Act, under section 6, provides that VAT shall be charged and levied where a service is provided. Facts at hand indicated that millers provide milling services to the farmers and they retain 23% from the sugar proceeds…,.

Given the above legislative requirements, VAT is therefore applicable on the milling fees, and, as discussed in the meeting, VAT is recovered as depicted in the following scenario…,.”

It was submitted, that, the moment the first respondent made the decision to commence recovering value added tax (VAT) on milling services, when, prior to that, it had not done so, the provisions of section 72(1) of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12] were triggered.

The section provides:

“(1) Whenever the value added tax is imposed or increased in respect of any supply of goods or services in relation to which any agreement was entered into by the acceptance of an offer made before the tax was imposed or increased, as the case may be, the registered operator may, unless agreed to the contrary in any agreement in writing and notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any law, recover from the recipient, as an addition to the amounts payable by the recipient to the registered operator, a sum equal to any amount payable by the registered operator by way of the said tax on increase, as the case may be, and any amount so recoverable by the registered operator shall, whether it is recovered or not, be accounted for by the registered operator under this Act as part of the consideration in respect of the said supply.”

To the extent that value added tax (VAT) was only imposed on the milling fees, by letter quoted above, so the argument goes, when it had not been claimed previously, the appellants were entitled to recover it from the recipients of the milling services by virtue of that provision.

It was submitted, further, that, the deeming provisions of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act do not preclude the appellants from recovering the value added tax (VAT) paid to the first respondent. This is so because the section is a shield in the hands of the revenue collector. It is an administrative tool for the facilitation of easy collection of taxes without disruptive disputes with registered operators.

In counsel for the appellants view, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act cannot be used to estop the operator from recovering value added tax (VAT) paid to the collector.

Per contra, counsel for the first respondent submitted, that, given that the contracts for milling services did not reflect value added tax (VAT), section 69 of the of the Value Added Tax Act applies. To that extent, in respect of past supplies, the contract price is deemed to be inclusive of VAT.

It was submitted further, that, in the absence of an agreement with the farmers to vary the contract price, even by the application of basic principles of Contract Law, the appellants could not unilaterally vary the price by levying value added tax (VAT).

On the effects of section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act, it was submitted, that, the section may be regarded as a law–changing provision. In the event that the law changes to include value added tax (VAT), where it was not applicable, so it was argued, or to increase the applicable VAT, then, by dint of section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act, the agreement is varied accordingly.

The net effect of those submissions is that the section has no application where value added tax (VAT) was excluded in the agreement when it should have been included.

Regarding the alleged interference with contractual rights and obligations by the first respondent, counsel for the first respondent submitted, that, the advice rendered by the first respondent was not only at the invitation of the appellants themselves but also in fulfilment of a statutory obligation. The first respondent is obliged to educate taxpayers on their tax obligations.

The requirements for an interdict were not met.

Counsel for the rest of the respondents in attendance, in chorus, associated themselves with submissions made on behalf of the first respondent.

ANALYSIS

In as much as the record of appeal and the submissions made by counsel are heavy, what has to be decided has become very narrow indeed. The entire appeal turns on the effect of the deeming provision in section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12].

In particular, whether it operates to prevent a registered operator who has fallen foul of the law, by not reflecting value added tax (VAT) on the price of goods and services, from later recouping the VAT demanded by the first respondent from the consumer.

A fortiori, whether section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act applies to a situation where the registered operator has excluded or not reflected value added tax (VAT) on the price of goods and services even though the law required such registered operator to levy and reflect VAT on the price.

Section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act varies the contract price by the margin of value added tax (VAT) imposed or increased subsequent to the contract being concluded.

I agree with counsel for the first respondent, that, it is a law-changing provision as it clearly relates to the imposition of a new tax or the increase of an existing tax.

It is common cause that the burden of paying value added tax (VAT) lies with the consumer of goods and services.

The system of value added tax (VAT) collection existing in this jurisdiction was succinctly summarised by the court in Zimbabwe Revenue Authority v Packers International (Private) Limited 2016 (2) ZLR 84 (S)…, thus:

“The system of collection of VAT, as embodied in the VAT Act, involves the imposition of tax at each step along the chain of manufacture of goods or the provision of services subject to VAT.

Consequently, every registered operator is required, in terms of section 28 of the VAT Act, to submit returns to the Commissioner of Taxes ('the Commissioner') every month, calculate the VAT due on the return, and make payment of such VAT.

Due to the sheer volume and complexity of the VAT collection system, ZIMRA lacks the capacity and manpower to effectively monitor each and every transaction liable to VAT, and, as a consequence, it is heavily reliant on the self-assessment process by registered operators.

However, in order to ensure that operators comply with the requirements to render returns and collect VAT, ZIMRA conducts periodic investigations as well as audits.”

In terms of the value added tax (VAT) collection system which is in place, while the burden to pay resides with the consumer of goods and services, the registered operator bears the burden of collecting VAT and remitting it to the revenue collector.

Where the registered operator has omitted, as required by section 6(1) of the Value Added Tax Act, to include value added tax (VAT) on the price, section 69(1) of the Value Added Tax Act is activated to deem VAT to be included in whatever price is pegged by the operator.

Section 6(1) of the Value Added Tax Act is very clear in its wording, it provides:

“Subject to this Act, there shall be charged, levied, and collected, for the benefit of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, a tax, at such rate as may be fixed by the Charging Act, on the value of -

(a) The supply, by any registered operator, of goods or services supplied by him on or after the 1st January 2004, in the course or furtherance of any trade carried on by him:”

What it means is, that, by failing to charge, levy, and collect value added tax (VAT) from the consumers of their milling services, the appellants breached, to their peril, the peremptory provisions of section 6(1) of the Value Added Tax Act.

By operation of section 69(1) of the Value Added Tax Act, the 23 percent charge for milling services was taken to include VAT for all intents and purposes.

The court a quo cannot be faulted for finding, that, whether by inadvertence, oversight, or misinterpretation of the nature of the contract, the consequence of the failure to specifically include value added tax (VAT) are that it is deemed included in the milling price.

The deeming provision cannot be applied differently on the registered operator and the consumer.

As regards the question whether section 72(1) of the Value Added Tax Act rescues the appellants from the consequences of their failure to comply with the peremptory provisions of section 6(1)(a) of the Value Added Tax Act, it is clearly a matter of statutory interpretation.

In my view, the simple grammatical meaning of the words “whenever the value added tax is imposed or increased in respect of any supply of goods and services…,” is that, in the first instance, there would be no tax on such supply and the law steps in to impose a tax.

In the second instance, the law would have imposed a tax on the supply but it moves in to increase the value of tax.

In both instances, the parties would have contracted in certain terms before the law changes.

Upon change of the law, section 72(1) of the Value Added Tax Act comes in to vary the terms of a pre-existing contract to either impose or increase the tax.

I do not agree with counsel for the appellants submission, that, upon conducting an audit which revealed that the appellants were rendering a taxable milling service while not levying and collecting tax, the first respondent imposed a tax.

In my view, the law had already imposed the tax, but the appellants were committing an infraction by not reflecting it.

Again, the court a quo was correct in concluding, that, there was no imposition of a “new tax” nor an increase of chargeable tax.

Accordingly, section 72(1) of the Value Added Tax Act has no application and is certainly not available to the appellants.

Counsel for the appellants did not prosecute the issue of the interdict sought against the first respondent with any degree of enthusiasm.

It is not without reason that this is so:

(a) Firstly, evidence placed before the court a quo shows, that, the appellants invited the first respondent to intervene and educate the farmers on the tax implications of their contracts with the appellants. That the first respondent interpreted their contracts in a manner not favourable to the appellants can scarcely found a cause of action.

(b) Secondly, and more importantly, the requirements for the grant of an interdict were not met.

I can only advert to the fact that the court a quo made factual findings relating to the failure by the appellants to prove that the first respondent had interfered with the contractual issues.

It also made a finding that the advice rendered by the first respondent was only confined to value added tax (VAT) matters falling within the statutory province of the first respondent as a revenue collector.

Surely, one cannot be interdicted from carrying out a lawful duty.

The court a quo also made a finding that the use of the term “gratuitously interfering” was too imprecise and unenforceable.

On appeal, the appellants failed to set out a basis for interference with those findings.

It is trite, that, it is only where the factual findings of the lower court are clearly irrational, to an extent that no sensible court seized with the same facts could have reached such a conclusion, that the Appellate Court will interfere: see Hama v National Railways of Zimbabwe 1996 (1) ZLR 664 (S); Shuro v Chiuraise SC20-19.

No such threshold was attained in the present case. As such, this Court cannot interfere.

It remains for me to deal with the question of costs.

The court a quo granted costs against the appellants in favour of those respondents who participated in the proceedings.

It premised its decision on the general rule that costs follow the result.

Its attention was not drawn to the widely held principle, in tax cases, that, the High Court or the Special Court, is loathe to make an order as to costs save where the claim is held to be unreasonable or the grounds of appeal are frivolous: see section 65(12) of the Income Tax Act [Chapter 23:06].

On appeal, counsel, again, did not address that issue at all.

It occurs to me, that, the court a quo was incapacitated in respect of costs by the failure to bring its attention to the prevailing jurisprudence on such costs. As a result, it misdirected itself, a misdirection entitling this Court to interfere with its exercise of discretion.

There is nothing in this case suggesting that the appellants case was unreasonable or that it was frivolous.

Quite to the contrary, they raised quite pertinent issues which required the court to embark on a detailed interpretation of the law. The same applies to the appeal.

In my view, this is a classic case in which the costs, both a quo and in this Court, should not be awarded to any party.

In the result, it be and is hereby ordered as follows:

1. The appeal, in respect of grounds of appeal 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3 is dismissed with each party to bear its own costs.

2. The appeal, in respect of ground of appeal 2.4, is upheld.

3. The judgment of the court a quo is amended by the deletion of paragraph 5 and its substitution with the following:

“5. Each party shall bear its own costs.”

Debt re: Contractual and Judgment Debt iro Approach, Proof of Claim, Execution, Revalorization and Civil Imprisonment


This is an appeal against the judgment of the High Court sitting at Masvingo, delivered on 24 June 2020, which dismissed with costs the application made by the two appellants for a declaratory order and an interdict.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The two appellants are sugar-producing giants in the Lowveld while the first respondent (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) is the statutory body charged with revenue collection in Zimbabwe. The remainder of the respondents are either sugar cane farmers or associations representing such farmers (Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association, Zimbabwe Cane Farmers Association, Mkwasine Sugarcane Farmers Trust, Commercial Sugarcane Farmers Association of Zimbabwe, Hippo Valley Productive Farmers Association, Zimbabwe Sugarcane Development Association Royal Trust, Chipiwa Mpapa Mill Group, Chiredzi Productive Cane Growers, Farai Dumo Augustine Musikavanhu and Roy Bhila).

The respondents will be referred to in this judgment, for convenience, as Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and the farmers respectively.

The appellants and the farmers entered into two types of agreements, either a “Cane Milling Agreement” or a “Cane Purchase Agreement” in terms of which the appellants would either provide milling services to the farmers and market their sugar and molasses or outrightly purchase the sugar cane.

The dispute which arose between the parties did not involve the outright purchase and sale of sugar cane. As such this judgment does not deal with that scenario at all. The judgment concerns itself with the cane milling agreements entered into between the parties.

In terms of the cane milling agreements, the charge for milling and marketing services, payable by the farmers to the appellants, was calculated in terms of a pre-determined ratio referred to as the “Division of Proceeds” (DoP) ratio. It was fixed at 23 percent of the proceeds the farmers would get; meaning that, the appellants would retain 23 percent of the proceeds while remitting the balance of 77 percent to the farmers.

Regrettably, in fixing the milling and marketing charge, the appellants did not include Value Added Tax (VAT) as required by law. It follows, that, no Value Added Tax was paid by the appellants to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority in that regard.

It was in the process of auditing the appellants Value Added Tax (VAT) assessments for the period 2009 to 2017 that the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority decided that the milling and marketing charges of 23 percent of the proceeds levied by the appellants against the farmers attracted VAT.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority proceeded to issue assessments of value added tax (VAT) for those years and demanded payment of same from the appellants. These assessments related to the past supplies where the appellants ought to have, but failed, to collect and remit VAT to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

The appellants objected to the assessments which objections were all disallowed by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority. The appellants appealed to the Fiscal Appeals Court but paid the assessed value added tax (VAT) to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority notwithstanding.

An appeal does not exonerate a tax payer from paying the assessed tax.

After effecting payments to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, the appellants sought to recover such value added tax (VAT) from the farmers on the basis that they were obliged to charge and collect the VAT from the consumers of the service, the farmers, but had not done so.

The appellants were of the view, that, it was only fair and reasonable that the farmers should re-imburse them of the value added tax (VAT) paid by them to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

There being no convergence between the farmers, who had obtained advice from the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, that, the 23 percent Division of Proceeds ratio was inclusive of value added tax (VAT), and the appellants, the latter filed an application in the court a quo.

In their application, the appellants sought declaratory relief that they were legally entitled to continue charging and collecting value added tax (VAT) from the farmers - over and above the 23 percent milling charge.

The appellants also sought to be reimbursed the monies they paid to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority on past assessments.

In addition, they accused the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority of interfering with contractual issues between them and the farmers by rendering advice to the farmers on the value added tax (VAT) dispute.

Accordingly, the appellants sought an order interdicting the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority from what they called “gratuitously interfering in pricing and contractual issues” between them and the farmers.

The application was opposed by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and most of the respondents.

DECISION A QUO

It was the view of the court a quo, that, the entire dispute revolved around the interpretation of section 69 and section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12].

Regarding the past supplies of sugar cane to the appellants, the court a quo found, that, the literal meaning of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act suggests, that, it is irrelevant whether the registered operator has charged VAT or not. If the price does not reflect the tax component, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act operates such that there is a presumption that a price not reflecting VAT included that tax.

It was the finding of the court a quo, that, the section serves to “estop” a registered operator, who has not reflected value added tax (VAT) on the price, from denying that the price includes that tax.

It also found, that, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act precludes such registered operator from subsequently claiming VAT not reflected on the price.

In the court a quo's view, permitting the appellants to recoup value added tax (VAT) in retrospect would render nugatory the deeming provision of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act as the deeming provision cannot be interpreted to mean different things to two different people.

Regarding the claim for value added tax (VAT) on present and future supplies of sugarcane, which the contracts of the parties are still silent on, the court a quo took the view, that, it was up to the parties to re-negotiate or clarify the terms of their contracts in order to plug the existing lacunae.

If they do not, then, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act will continue to apply.

The court a quo was not persuaded that a case was made for an interdict against the first respondent.

It recognised, that, the appellants had made a formal request to the first respondent to intervene and educate the farmers on the tax implications of their agreement. They could not, thereafter, cry foul after such intervention.

In addition, the court a quo found no evidence of the first respondent's interference with the pricing issues between the appellants and the farmers.

On the question of costs, the court a quo found no basis for departing from the general rule, that, costs follow the result. It dismissed the application with costs granted in favour of only those respondents who participated in the suit.

The appellants were aggrieved. They noted this appeal to this Court on the following grounds;

GROUNDS OF APPEAL

1. The learned judge of the court a quo erred and misdirected himself in finding that section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12] operated to preclude the appellants from recovering value added tax (VAT) for past supplies on an alleged milling service which the first respondent considered to have been rendered to farmers.

2. Further, the court a quo erred and misdirected itself in failing to pronounce, definitively, on the appellants right and entitlement to charge, levy, and collect value added tax (VAT), and the farmers respective obligation to pay same, in addition to the value of the alleged milling service, with respect to current and future supplies pursuant to the first respondent's decision to impose tax.

3. The learned Judge of the court a quo erred and misdirected himself in failing to find, that, the letter by the first respondent to the farmers, with respect to the farmers tax obligations, strayed upon purely contractual matters which it was not competent for the first respondent to prescribe to parties.

4. The court a quo erred in awarding costs against the appellants, and in favour of the respondents in general, and, at any rate, most especially as it relates to the second (Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Development Association), fifth (Commercial Sugar Cane Farmers Association of Zimbabwe), seventh (Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Development Association Royal Trust), eighth (Chipiwa Mpapa Mill Group), and tenth (Farai Dumo Augustine Musikavanhu) respondents in particular.

ISSUES

The grounds of appeal may be four, but they speak to essentially two narrow issues for determination in this appeal. They are:

1. Whether or not the court a quo erred in refusing to grant the declaratur and the interdict.

2. Whether or not the court a quo erred in granting costs against the appellants.

SUBMISSIONS ON APPEAL

Counsel for the appellants anchored his arguments on the legal effects of the decision taken by the first respondent, contained in its letter dated 9 September 2019. Following meetings held by the parties, the first respondent determined that:

“1. The VAT Act, under section 6, provides that VAT shall be charged and levied where a service is provided. Facts at hand indicated that millers provide milling services to the farmers and they retain 23% from the sugar proceeds…,.

Given the above legislative requirements, VAT is therefore applicable on the milling fees, and, as discussed in the meeting, VAT is recovered as depicted in the following scenario…,.”

It was submitted, that, the moment the first respondent made the decision to commence recovering value added tax (VAT) on milling services, when, prior to that, it had not done so, the provisions of section 72(1) of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12] were triggered.

The section provides:

“(1) Whenever the value added tax is imposed or increased in respect of any supply of goods or services in relation to which any agreement was entered into by the acceptance of an offer made before the tax was imposed or increased, as the case may be, the registered operator may, unless agreed to the contrary in any agreement in writing and notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any law, recover from the recipient, as an addition to the amounts payable by the recipient to the registered operator, a sum equal to any amount payable by the registered operator by way of the said tax on increase, as the case may be, and any amount so recoverable by the registered operator shall, whether it is recovered or not, be accounted for by the registered operator under this Act as part of the consideration in respect of the said supply.”

To the extent that value added tax (VAT) was only imposed on the milling fees, by letter quoted above, so the argument goes, when it had not been claimed previously, the appellants were entitled to recover it from the recipients of the milling services by virtue of that provision.

It was submitted, further, that, the deeming provisions of section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act do not preclude the appellants from recovering the value added tax (VAT) paid to the first respondent. This is so because the section is a shield in the hands of the revenue collector. It is an administrative tool for the facilitation of easy collection of taxes without disruptive disputes with registered operators.

In counsel for the appellants view, section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act cannot be used to estop the operator from recovering value added tax (VAT) paid to the collector.

Per contra, counsel for the first respondent submitted, that, given that the contracts for milling services did not reflect value added tax (VAT), section 69 of the of the Value Added Tax Act applies. To that extent, in respect of past supplies, the contract price is deemed to be inclusive of VAT.

It was submitted further, that, in the absence of an agreement with the farmers to vary the contract price, even by the application of basic principles of Contract Law, the appellants could not unilaterally vary the price by levying value added tax (VAT).

On the effects of section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act, it was submitted, that, the section may be regarded as a law–changing provision. In the event that the law changes to include value added tax (VAT), where it was not applicable, so it was argued, or to increase the applicable VAT, then, by dint of section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act, the agreement is varied accordingly.

The net effect of those submissions is that the section has no application where value added tax (VAT) was excluded in the agreement when it should have been included.

Regarding the alleged interference with contractual rights and obligations by the first respondent, counsel for the first respondent submitted, that, the advice rendered by the first respondent was not only at the invitation of the appellants themselves but also in fulfilment of a statutory obligation. The first respondent is obliged to educate taxpayers on their tax obligations.

The requirements for an interdict were not met.

Counsel for the rest of the respondents in attendance, in chorus, associated themselves with submissions made on behalf of the first respondent.

ANALYSIS

In as much as the record of appeal and the submissions made by counsel are heavy, what has to be decided has become very narrow indeed. The entire appeal turns on the effect of the deeming provision in section 69 of the Value Added Tax Act [Chapter 23:12].

In particular, whether it operates to prevent a registered operator who has fallen foul of the law, by not reflecting value added tax (VAT) on the price of goods and services, from later recouping the VAT demanded by the first respondent from the consumer.

A fortiori, whether section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act applies to a situation where the registered operator has excluded or not reflected value added tax (VAT) on the price of goods and services even though the law required such registered operator to levy and reflect VAT on the price.

Section 72 of the Value Added Tax Act varies the contract price by the margin of value added tax (VAT) imposed or increased subsequent to the contract being concluded.

I agree with counsel for the first respondent, that, it is a law-changing provision as it clearly relates to the imposition of a new tax or the increase of an existing tax.

It is common cause that the burden of paying value added tax (VAT) lies with the consumer of goods and services.

The system of value added tax (VAT) collection existing in this jurisdiction was succinctly summarised by the court in Zimbabwe Revenue Authority v Packers International (Private) Limited 2016 (2) ZLR 84 (S)…, thus:

“The system of collection of VAT, as embodied in the VAT Act, involves the imposition of tax at each step along the chain of manufacture of goods or the provision of services subject to VAT.

Consequently, every registered operator is required, in terms of section 28 of the VAT Act, to submit returns to the Commissioner of Taxes ('the Commissioner') every month, calculate the VAT due on the return, and make payment of such VAT.

Due to the sheer volume and complexity of the VAT collection system, ZIMRA lacks the capacity and manpower to effectively monitor each and every transaction liable to VAT, and, as a consequence, it is heavily reliant on the self-assessment process by registered operators.

However, in order to ensure that operators comply with the requirements to render returns and collect VAT, ZIMRA conducts periodic investigations as well as audits.”

In terms of the value added tax (VAT) collection system which is in place, while the burden to pay resides with the consumer of goods and services, the registered operator bears the burden of collecting VAT and remitting it to the revenue collector.

Where the registered operator has omitted, as required by section 6(1) of the Value Added Tax Act, to include value added tax (VAT) on the price, section 69(1) of the Value Added Tax Act is activated to deem VAT to be included in whatever price is pegged by the operator.

Section 6(1) of the Value Added Tax Act is very clear in its wording, it provides:

“Subject to this Act, there shall be charged, levied, and collected, for the benefit of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, a tax, at such rate as may be fixed by the Charging Act, on the value of -

(a) The supply, by any registered operator, of goods or services supplied by him on or after the 1st January 2004, in the course or furtherance of any trade carried on by him:”

What it means is, that, by failing to charge, levy, and collect value added tax (VAT) from the consumers of their milling services, the appellants breached, to their peril, the peremptory provisions of section 6(1) of the Value Added Tax Act.

By operation of section 69(1) of the Value Added Tax Act, the 23 percent charge for milling services was taken to include VAT for all intents and purposes.

The court a quo cannot be faulted for finding, that, whether by inadvertence, oversight, or misinterpretation of the nature of the contract, the consequence of the failure to specifically include value added tax (VAT) are that it is deemed included in the milling price.

The deeming provision cannot be applied differently on the registered operator and the consumer.

As regards the question whether section 72(1) of the Value Added Tax Act rescues the appellants from the consequences of their failure to comply with the peremptory provisions of section 6(1)(a) of the Value Added Tax Act, it is clearly a matter of statutory interpretation.

In my view, the simple grammatical meaning of the words “whenever the value added tax is imposed or increased in respect of any supply of goods and services…,” is that, in the first instance, there would be no tax on such supply and the law steps in to impose a tax.

In the second instance, the law would have imposed a tax on the supply but it moves in to increase the value of tax.

In both instances, the parties would have contracted in certain terms before the law changes.

Upon change of the law, section 72(1) of the Value Added Tax Act comes in to vary the terms of a pre-existing contract to either impose or increase the tax.

I do not agree with counsel for the appellants submission, that, upon conducting an audit which revealed that the appellants were rendering a taxable milling service while not levying and collecting tax, the first respondent imposed a tax.

In my view, the law had already imposed the tax, but the appellants were committing an infraction by not reflecting it.

Again, the court a quo was correct in concluding, that, there was no imposition of a “new tax” nor an increase of chargeable tax.

Accordingly, section 72(1) of the Value Added Tax Act has no application and is certainly not available to the appellants.

Counsel for the appellants did not prosecute the issue of the interdict sought against the first respondent with any degree of enthusiasm.

It is not without reason that this is so:

(a) Firstly, evidence placed before the court a quo shows, that, the appellants invited the first respondent to intervene and educate the farmers on the tax implications of their contracts with the appellants. That the first respondent interpreted their contracts in a manner not favourable to the appellants can scarcely found a cause of action.

(b) Secondly, and more importantly, the requirements for the grant of an interdict were not met.

I can only advert to the fact that the court a quo made factual findings relating to the failure by the appellants to prove that the first respondent had interfered with the contractual issues.

It also made a finding that the advice rendered by the first respondent was only confined to value added tax (VAT) matters falling within the statutory province of the first respondent as a revenue collector.

Surely, one cannot be interdicted from carrying out a lawful duty.

The court a quo also made a finding that the use of the term “gratuitously interfering” was too imprecise and unenforceable.

On appeal, the appellants failed to set out a basis for interference with those findings.

It is trite, that, it is only where the factual findings of the lower court are clearly irrational, to an extent that no sensible court seized with the same facts could have reached such a conclusion, that the Appellate Court will interfere: see Hama v National Railways of Zimbabwe 1996 (1) ZLR 664 (S); Shuro v Chiuraise SC20-19.

No such threshold was attained in the present case. As such, this Court cannot interfere.

It remains for me to deal with the question of costs.

The court a quo granted costs against the appellants in favour of those respondents who participated in the proceedings.

It premised its decision on the general rule that costs follow the result.

Its attention was not drawn to the widely held principle, in tax cases, that, the High Court or the Special Court, is loathe to make an order as to costs save where the claim is held to be unreasonable or the grounds of appeal are frivolous: see section 65(12) of the Income Tax Act [Chapter 23:06].

On appeal, counsel, again, did not address that issue at all.

It occurs to me, that, the court a quo was incapacitated in respect of