THE cash-strapped government has scrapped duty on all public transport vehicles being imported by local churches as it moves to reap benefits from the country’s commercially viable religious groups.

Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi told parliament Wednesday the package involves the introduction of incentives to local hotels and restaurants whose services support local churches.

“In order to encourage religious tourism, church-inspired and faith-based business can now ride on the back of these two statutory instruments in order to grow their faith based business opportunities and here l cite conventional centres, restaurants, transport business because the church itself has become a market,” he said.

The minister was responding to questions from backbenchers who sought responses on government’s strategies to cash in on the massive business potential availed by churches led by charismatic prophets such as Emmanuel Makandiwa and Walter Magaya.

Mzembi said this involved the decision by government to write-off duty on vehicles being imported by the churches.

“Just two weeks ago, we witnessed 180,000 parishioners along the Masvingo highway near Waterfalls where Pastor Magaya was ministering,” Mzembi said.

“If you have 180,000 congregants; if each one of them buys a bottle of mineral water at $1, that’s already a $180,000 in circulation on one single product line called water.

“Those people when they get to Waterfalls or when they get to a judgement night function, they have to get Kombis.

“Recently, l had a meeting with Kombi operators where we established that if these two or three churches on a weekend would decide that they would not be holding a service then the transport sector on a weekend in Harare would certainly catch a cough, it would sneeze.”

Mzembi continued: “…The movement of people that takes place through kombis and other conventional means of transport going to these churches on Sundays is one without precedence.

“And therefore, government has also extended its incentives to the church so that they can import motor vehicles of this nature duty free provided those businesses that have been assisted and aided by the state through those incentives also give to Caesar what is due to Caesar in the form of taxes.”

The government is keen on resuscitating a sagging economy which has seen the flight of foreign direct investment due to stringent and often inconsistent policies by President Robert Mugabe’s