By Nation Reporter
Fred M’membe has warned Government that if they think the closure of his newspaper, The Post, is victory, they will soon realise that it will not last longer than a candle lasts in a storm.
And the opposition UPND has threaten to embark on country wide protests over the decision by the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) to close down The Post newspaper over tax obligations amounting to over K53 million.
And a tax expert Phestone Chanda says the K53 million owed by The Post newspaper was many times more than the K19 million over which Armcor Security company was levied by the ZRA.
This was in a matter before the High Court in which Armcor Security Limited sought an order for the stay of execution of the notice of assessment issued by ZRA demanding the security company to pay K6.2 million in respect of vat and k1.1 million in respect of PAYE for the period April 2013 to September 2013.
“In contrast, the Post has been assessed K53 million accrued over many years of non-payment. There is no comparison and politicization is wrong.
“Armcor had more employees than the Post, but the courts ruled in ZRA’s favour because the taxes are obligations,”he said .
The Post newspaper management, he said, were fully aware of the debt and their obligation to pay.
“They should not be playing to the gallery of public opinion,” Mr Chanda said.
He said it is instructive that the Supreme Court explained that there was no illegality, unreasonableness or procedural impropriety, in the manner the Director General of ZRA had demanded for the immediate payment of tax arrears The Post had appealed against a High Court ruling that set aside a stay to restrain the revenue authority from recovering its money from the firm.
But Mr M’membe described as pure discrimination the closure of The Post newspaper.
He however said the Post Newspaper would not sit down on its principles for convenience even if it took a 100 years to fight its battles
“What is happening now is discrimination of us on the basis of our editorial policy. On the basis of our political views, our own convictions.
“Take this as a temporal set back. There is no struggle without setbacks. We are revolutionaries. We have the patience but we also have the determination and courage. For now, the situation will be what it is but if they think this is victory for them, they will realise that their victory will not last longer than a candle of lasts in a storm. What appears sweet today, will soon turn sour,” he said when he addressed his workers at Bwinjimfumu road.
Mr M’membe encouraged workers to remain strong as he would do everything in his powers to ameliorate their hardships at the firm.
“There are many other tax payers in Zambia who have got many worse problems than us, they are not treated the same way. You sacrificed especially the last two years and when we came back to you, you understood. The resources of The Post do not belong to an individual. This is not a Kantemba where somebody goes and takes what has been collected for the day. I don’t take any Ngwee from the Post coffers that is not my due,” he said.
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.