The Government has refined buck passing to a consummate art.
The most recent display being the Times of Zambia debacle, where the acting Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services , has given the Times Newspaper management an ultimatum to pay outstanding salaries or else.
The Minister appears oblivious to the fact that the Times of Zambia belongs to the Government and that most of the problems it is facing are a result of this fact.
Over time the paper has been subjected to changes, restructuring and indeed profile alignment as a result of Government ownership which has made it impossible for the paper to pursue a “pure” business approach to issues and content.
The Minister would have done the paper a great service, if he had taken some time to look at the underlying issues before instructing a “tautology”
The Minister would have done the nation credit, if he had taken time to study the origins of the problems before pronouncing himself publicly on an issue where the Government may find itself at fault.
The Times Management and Board have a challenge. They have failed to raise the requisite amounts. There is no doubt that the Board and its management must have tried to raise the money through various schemes including borrowing from the commercial market. Ultimately however the Government as the beneficial owner of the project was the ultimate saviour.
The Minister’s harsh demand couched in an ultimatum did not help management deal with the inherent problems they were confronted with.
In reality the Government must come to the aid of the Times of Zambia by resolving some of the structural, historical and operational difficulties that the paper has been confronting, among them the problem of huge debt overhang- most of it from Government.
For a long time Government Departments made no effort to pay for advertisements forcing the company to default from statutory obligations because the money earned from other clients was diverted to meet recurrent expenditure.
More importantly too is the undercapitalization of the company, meaning that plant and equipment inherited from former Lonrho still graces the production floors of the company. This cannot compete with modern machinery that has been employed by private industry.
Undercapitalization coupled with generous employment packages has combined to make the work of the management difficult.
Solving the Times of Zambia problem will require much more than harsh admonition from the Minister, it will require cogent and purposeful decision making that goes to the root of the problem.