By Nation Reporter
THE mountain of tax arrears accumulated by The Post newspaper, after it stopped paying during the reign of President Michael Sata, yesterday caught up as Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) Officers moved in to effect a demand notice which may close the paper.
Through sharp legal manoeuvres, the paper had managed to hold ZRA at bay until the Supreme Court early this month ruled that the paper had no credible excuse for not paying taxes and ruled in favour of ZRA.
Last year, Lusaka High Court judge Mwiinde Siavwapa said in a judgment that The Post had been allowed under a previous arrangement with ZRA to pay its tax obligations in instalments after penalties and interest were assesed but that the paper again defaulted on payment of taxes as a result of which a “Time to Pay (TTP)” agreement was entered into with ZRA but that the company failed to fulfil its tax obligations.
He said the commissioner-general refused to allow instalment payment this time around based on that background and it was not outrageous for him to make such a decision.
“It is the kind of decision that, in my view, a right-thinking person, more so, a person tasked with the responsibility of receiving and collecting revenue on behalf of the republic, would make,” Mr Justice Siavwapa said.
“My view is that logic demands that a debtor must pay what he owes the creditor if the creditor refuses to accept instalment payment. The commissioner general used his discretion to reject the proposal and judicial review must not be used to fetter such discretion when exercised within the law and in good faith,” Mr Justice Siavwapa said.
He said courts should not be used to sustain insolvent entities by keeping creditors out of funds due to them as and when the funds fall due and are demanded for by the creditor.
Mr Justice Siavwapa said other avenues between the newspaper company and the ZRA should have been explored to give some respite to the company if it is facing financial distress and that judicial review was not that option.
He said taxes are law and failure to pay and collect taxes undermines operations of Government and that the commissioner-general of the ZRA should use his sober judgement and honest discretion not to allow defaulting entities to be shut down.
And yesterday Deputy Secretary General of the Patriotic Front Mumbi Phiri said the paper should just honour its tax obligations and pay its dues because politicising the issue was just a way for them to evade the payment.
Reacting to a statement by wife of former Vice President Charlotte Scott in the Post that Government would injure the Zambian people if they closed down The Post, Ms Phiri said that tabloid was run by educated people who understood their obligation to pay tax and should not politicise the issue to gain political mileage.
“Fred M’membe pursued second republican President Frederick Chiluba for corruption, but failing to pay taxes to the level of K53miullion is far much worse corruption. It is only fair that the law should visit them also.” He said.
“The people who are running The Post are very educated and they know that they have an obligation to pay tax and if they neglect, it accumulates. Should that become a problem for the Government?” she asked.
Ms Phiri said that The Post management neglected their duty to pay tax and that they should not put the blame on Government or ZRA which was only doing its job.
She urged The Post to own up and pay ZRA its dues rather than politicising the issue as it would just make things worse for them.
Ms Phiri expressed disappointment at the sentiments by Mrs Scott, the UPND parliamentary candidate for Lusaka Central, that Government wanted to injure the Zambian people by closing The Post. She refuted the claims, adding that the opposition were misinforming the nation and that they were trying to help the paper evade tax.
“From the political point of view, we are not aware, those are just allegations. Even the Bible encourages us to pay tax. If you are paying tax even your businesses boom. Is charlotte Scott telling us to stop collecting tax from everyone because The Post is not paying?” asked Ms Phiri.