THE closure of The Post newspaper by the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) on Tuesday, 21st June, 2016 has solicited a myriad of comments.
Alas, many commentators have done so either emotively or ignorantly. This is dangerous, particularly that the ZRA acted on the strength of a Supreme Court judgment. The ZRA acted legally and in national interest. Why should it be difficult for some people to understand? Should the ZRA have waited until after elections?
It is otiose to politicise such an obvious matter. What is so clear is that the many of those commenting on the matter have failed to distinguish the practice of the media profession from the statutory obligation to pay tax to the government which is a requirement by all registered business entities in our country. In fact, individuals are equally obliged to pay tax to Government.
We are appalled by the sentiments of the United States embassy, the United Nations system in Zambia and the European Union – who are renowned for strict enforcement of tax laws against their citizens and companies in a bid to curb tax evasion – that seem to suggest that the action of the ZRA to enforce the Supreme Court judgment was an infringement on the right to freedom of the media.
Should The Post settle its tax liability to the ZRA and still remain closed, only then can it amount to an affront on press freedom as there will be no justification for such.
Every company is required by law to act as an agent to collect taxes such as VAT, income tax and PAYE on behalf of Government. If a company fails to do so, it is the worst form of corruption and theft.
It is vital to note that The Post newspaper has been engaged in a corporate guerrilla tax war with the ZRA since 2009 when it became apparent that the company had not been meeting its tax obligations dating back to 1996.
A recollection on this debacle actually reveals that in 2009 the government of Rupiah Banda then had threatened to close The Post due to non-adherence to tax laws. It had accumulated about K27 million and the tabloid resisted to settle the taxes due. ZRA dragged The Post to the Revenue Appeals Tribunal which ordered that the tax be collected.
The Post rushed to the High Court and obtained an injunction against the decision of the Revenue Appeals Tribunal after which they started paying and the tax debt was eventually reduced to K16 million in 2011.
When the Rupiah Banda administration was swept out of power by Michael Sata’s Patriotic Front, the outstanding K16 million tax debt was written off in unclear circumstances.
It was clear that an invisible hand had intervened in the matter to save a comrade. It was probably payback time. But instead of The Post newspaper taking advantage of the huge tax relief and become tax compliant, it took advantage of its relationship with the successive government to avoid adherence to tax laws. It used political patronage to stop paying tax.
As a result, the debt again soared to K31 million which the paper resisted to honour and again went to the Revenue Appeals Tribunal which again ordered it to pay. In its usual style, it decided to take the matter to the courts of law and won an injunction against the decision of the Revenue Appeals Tribunal. This ignited the long, bitter litigation which ended with the Supreme Court passing judgment in favour of ZRA on 13th June this year. The court ordered that the newspaper must pay ZRA K53 million.
It is, therefore, wrong to implicate President Lungu in The Post tax woes when the tabloid has a track record of being a perpetual tax defaulter. It is even unthinkable to allege that the courts have unfairly adjudicated The Post tax case.
We are of the view that Mr M’membe must blame himself for the closure of The Post because for many years he has been breaching tax laws with impunity and he now seems to have run out of legal options.
This is why we are not amused with suggestions that the closure of the newspaper is an infringement of press freedom while ignore the fact that The Post has not been a good corporate citizen.
The Bible says, ‘‘Pay to Ceasar what belongs to Caesar.’’ (Matthew 22:21).