MUCH as we are devastated by the events at The Post, one of our fearless erstwhile competitors, we respect the decision of the Zambia Revenue Authority to move against the newspaper and may we dare say Fred M’membe asked for it.
At the same time, we are appalled by the sentiments of the United States embassy, the United Nations system in Zambia and the European Union – the world’s renowned sticklers for corporate responsibility, especially in cases of individuals and companies trying to evade paying tax – that seem to suggest that by closing The Post, the Government, through ZRA, was muzzling the Press.
The Post newspaper has been engaged in a corporate guerrilla war with the Zambia Revenue Authority since 2009 when it became apparent that the company had not been meeting its tax obligations dating back to 1996.
In 2011, the Rupiah Banda administration was swept out of power by Michael Sata’s Patriotic Front whose victory in that epic election was underwritten by The Post newspaper. After losing an appeal to the Revenue Appeals Tribunal at the time, the Government decided to write off a staggering K16 billion, unrebased, of The Post debt under unclear circumstances.
It was clear that an invisible hand, obviously from Plot 1, had intervened in the matter to save a dear friend and comrade. It was payback time. But instead of the Post newspaper taking advantage of the huge tax relief and become tax compliant, it became even more stubborn and used political patronage to stop paying tax.
Very soon the debt again soared to K31 million which the paper resisted to honour and went to the Revenue Appeals Tribunal which ordered it to pay. It then decided to take the matter to courts of law and won an injunction against the decision of the appeals tribunal. Then began the long, bitter litigation, in most cases forum shopping, with the ZRA that ended with the ruling of the Supreme Court on 13th June that the newspaper must pay ZRA K53 million.
It is, therefore, clear from the evidence that The Post is not being victimised or persecuted by any outsider or perceived enemy. The Post is being tortured and ruined by the arrogance, pride and stubbornness of its editor, proprietor and chief executive officer Fred M’membe.
Mr M’membe has used the newspaper to build his political CV and in the process has wilfully destroyed the lives, reputations and careers of many innocent Zambians who happened to cross his path. The newspaper is best known for waging bitter crusades against individuals and institutions he personally regarded to be his business, political or ideological adversaries.
Mr M’membe has also been known for daring the law, belittling governance institutions and using the media and The Post in particular to carry favour with donors and international institutions, because of the hallowed place that the media holds as the forth estate
We totally agree with the Government position that Mr M’membe only has himself to blame for the closure of The Post because for many years he has been breaching tax laws with impunity and now the chickens have come home to roost.
This is why we are not amused that the UN, EU and US diplomats in Zambia can link the closure of the newspaper to the forthcoming election and ignore the fact that The Post has been refusing to pay tax and the seizure is on the heels of a Supreme Court judgment after 9 months of protracted legal battles. This is a clear case of disrespect for Zambia’s judicial system and governance.
Can any of their citizens of the US or UK or indeed the EU in their countries ever dare the state and refuse to pay tax? No ways.