Court name
High Court General Division
Case number
Misc. Civil Cause 40 of 2002

Plastico Industries Ltd v State & Anor. (Misc. Civil Cause 40 of 2002) [2002] MWHC 14 (29 April 2002);

Law report citations
Media neutral citation
[2002] MWHC 14











Applicant/Counsel - Absent

Mpango, of Counsel for the Respondent

Mzungu (Miss), Official Interpreter


On 22nd March, 2002 the Hon. Justice Mkandawire granted to the Applicant, Plastico Industries Limited, on an application made ex-parte,
leave to apply for Judicial Review of certain decision of the Respondent, Malawi Revenue Authority, under O 53 rule 3 of the Rules
of Supreme Court. At the same time the Applicant was also granted an Order of Stay against the process of distress carried out by
the Respondent against the Applicant’s properties. Now, under Order 32 rule 6 of the Rules of Supreme Court, Malawi Revenue
Authority has applied to court for a vacation of the Order of Stay obtained by Plastico

Industries Limited. The application is supported by the affidavit of learned Counsel for Malawi Revenue Authority, Mr Dominic Stephen

When the summons was called for hearing I ended up hearing Mr Mpango in the absence of the other party or its Counsel. This is because
it was abundantly clear then that service of the material summons had been duly effected some two weeks earlier. In fact the summons
was called an hour after its due time and by then there was no word to explain the absence of Plastico Industries Limited and/or
its lawyers.

From the way the summons to vacate is drawn the impression one gets is that in this application Malawi Revenue Authority is only
targetting the Order of Stay against its distraint process. Despite absence of direct reference to the Judicial Review proceedings
permitted by the leave granted herein, in the argument of the summons, it becomes noticeable that the attack launched goes beyond
the Order of Stay and actually extends to the intended Judicial Review. In a way it appears that this could not have been avoided
as the Stay herein has its foundation in the proposed Judicial Review and could not have been secured independently of such proceedings.
On the other hand, however, the intended Judicial Review proceedings are not themselves dependent on the Order of Stay and may well
proceed whether the Stay herein is retained or discharged.

With reference to the facts on the file Mr Mpango, in arguing his client’s case, pointed out that disgruntled with an assessment
of tax in the sum of K21,306,560.20 made on it, Plastico Industries Limited, asked for a review of the assessment. The decision of
the Commissioner General of the Malawi Revenue Authority on that request, he said, was that the original assessment should stand
and in this regard he referred to his exhibit “DSM1,” which is a letter dated 30th August, 2001 indicating that in terms
of the law the assessed tax was collectable and that a final notice would shortly follow.

Mr Mpango next observed that Plastico Industries Limited could have but that it did not in fact appeal against this decision to the
special Arbitrator in terms of S. 98 of the Taxation Act and then argued that its failure to do so is fatal and that the court cannot
extend the time within which such appeal can now be lodged. In this regard Mr Mpango cited the decision of Hon. Justice Mead in Press
(Holdings) Limited -vs- Commissioner of Taxes (1978-80)9 MLR 62 as authority on the point. Mr Mpango thus contended that in, to date,
not appealing against this decision of the Commissioner General not to revise the initial assessment in terms of Part III of the
eighth schedule of the Taxation Act, the Applicant sat on its rights and that it cannot now succeed to gain extension of time within
which to appeal to the special Arbitrator. It is on this basis, he said, that the Respondent was bringing in this application to
the court to vacate the Order staying the distraint so that enforcement may proceed under S. 107(3)(a) of the Taxation Act.

In the light of the arguments brought up in this application I have had a look at both the provisions of the Taxation Act as cited
and at the case authority relied upon. Although I must observe that a judicial review is a separate and distinct process from an
appeals procedure, I must acknowledge that the significance of the case authority cited is not lost on that pretext alone. The authority
in question well serves to expose what alternative remedial measures were available to Plastico Industries Limited in this matter
and is also helpful for determining how well that company utilized or ill-utilized them.

Bearing all this in mind I have revisited the ex-parte application that was laid before the court, which application is the one that
led to the Stay Order now under challenge. It is my observation that nowhere in this application did the letter marked “DSM1,”
which was a direct response to Plastico Industries Limited’s very first querry of tax assessment, feature. The impression created
by the application was as if the respondent never really took a position on the querry lodged with it and that as negotiations followed
and continued Plastico Industries Limited, was, totally from the blues, early this year just puzzled with a Final Notice and then
Distraint action. Indeed there is no sign that beyond efforts at negotiation any formal appeal steps were taken either against the
decision to retain the tax assessment (which was revealed) or against the Final Notice. Further, even if the negotiations were somehow
construed as some kind of appeal to the Commissioner General, there is no indication that at any point Plastico Industries Limited
took steps to avail itself of the appeal process to the Special Arbitrator in terms of the Rules of Procedure in the 8th Schedule
to the Act, let alone any other appeal process.

I note that the language used in Sections 97 and 98 and that the procedure for appeals laid down in the eighth schedule are quite
plain and precise. The steps and stages a party aggrieved with an assessment of tax or a decision thereon is expected to undertake
in order to overturn the same are clearly laid down and are quite elaborate. In sequence they graduate from the Commissioner, to
the special Arbitrator, and then finally to the High Court. In this case Plastico Industries Limited, it is now clear, did not follow
these steps and so, until it is otherwise determined at the judicial review that might follow, the position is that the tax liability
herein is legally enforceable as assessed.

I would not by this ruling wish in any way to pretend to foretell the outcome of the Judicial Review proceedings yet to come. As
matters stand, however, it is clear that the Applicant did not timeously avail itself of all the procedural processes the Taxation
Act made available to it in challenging the assessment herein. It is also clear that due to this neglect or omission on its part
the tax liability assessed herein is now legally enforceable. It has thus exercised my mind whether it is indeed appropriate that
there should be a stay on legal enforcement of tax just because a party which failed to fully utilize appeal provisions now seeks
to have the decisions he should have appealed upon otherwise judicially revised.

The letter exhibit “DSM1” which the Applicant did not disclose in its application makes it clear that the Respondent
did not in this matter leave the Applicant in limbo on its querry and thereby deprive it of the opportunity to take advantage of
the appellate procedure. The Applicant therefore only has itself to blame for neglecting a legally available alternative solution
to its crisis. Be this as it may, however, after taking into account the import of Press (Holdings) Limited -vs- Commissioner of
Taxes (above-cited), although not directly an authority on the subject of Stay Orders, I am of the mind that if “DSM1”
had been disclosed by Plastico Industries Limited in its ex-parte application, in the light of Sections 97 and 98 as well as S. 107(3)
of the Taxation Act, the need to stay distraint action herein would not have arisen. Thus whereas the leave for Judicial Review still
stands I direct that the Order of Stay against the distraint action of the Respondent be and it is hereby vacated. Should it turn
out that the Applicant’s judicial review proceedings are successful, I am confident that the Respondent should be in a position
to effect necessary refunds. The Respondent’s summons to vacate Stay Order thus succeeds with costs.

Made in Chambers the 30th day of April, 2002 at Blantyre.

A.C. Chipeta