What a dangerous precedent they have set for themselves!

What a dangerous precedent they have set for themselves!

Oliver Chibwe, a London-based Zambian financial and investment consultant, says the Patriotic Front government’s motivation for placing Post Newspapers Limited in liquidation is intended to eliminate all critical voices so that they can be left to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor citizens.

Chibwe says state institutions must not be used to serve personal interests of the politicians. He says the liquidation of The Post has eliminated a voice that served society, hence it has created a massive loss to the nation.

“Firstly, I want to point out that democratic governance is all about exercising authority of the state to serve the public interest. Thus all public institutions from legal, parliament, and the executive to military and, or the media must use the ultimate test of whether anything they are doing meets the simple test of ‘is this ultimately in the public interest?’ Given the nature of governance and the ambiguity of the law, it is possible for those running the affairs of the nation to make mistakes, it’s human. However, wherever ambiguity exists and demands that a compromise position is reached, the leaders must seek to error on the side of what is in the best interest of the general public. State institutions must not be used to serve personal interests of the politician. That is just wrong at so many levels and requires no further debate. The circumstances are that Post Newspapers Limited owes the Zambia Revenue Authority money in unpaid taxes. Prior to the newspaper being placed in liquidation, there had been ongoing disputes between The Post and Zambia Revenue Authority. The Post was at the time disputing figures that were being claimed by the Zambia Revenue Authority. I am not privy to the accounting books and therefore, I cannot say one way or the other about the strength of arguments by either side. But we do know, and most people who have been involved in the professional running of business would know, that it is in fact common business practice for business to be running in tax disputes with revenue authorities. Some of the largest companies on earth are engaging in tax disputes as we speak, from Starbucks, Google, Amazon to Apple and many others in between. The essence of such disputes is not about companies refusing to pay tax, these disputes are about how the figures are attributed and how the overall tax liabilities are arrived at. There are many perfectly legal ways of attributing revenues, losses, assets, expenses, etc., to various accounting periods. Therefore, there is again nothing illegal, unusual about it in almost all cases. There should be no need for these matters to turn into legal matters. These are purely accounting matters and the accountants for both parties would examine the books and together reach an agreement. Whilst all legally and professionally run business recognise the legal responsibility to pay taxes, you would be not just an incompetent but also a properly foolish chief executive officer if you should be so careless as to want to pay more tax than your business is legally obliged to do so. If you carelessly hand over huge sums of cash to tax revenues, they are not going to say, ‘no that is too much’. All that will happen is that you will soon run your business to the ground. The politicians’ motivation for placing Post Newspapers Limited into liquidation may be easy to ascertain, even if that is subjective – they want to eliminate all critical voices… How about the average Zambian? Does the average Zambian gain or lose from the liquidating of Post Newspapers Limited?” asks Chibwe.

Chibwe has a point.

As it has been repeatedly pointed out by many people, the closure of The Post by the Zambia Revenue Authority in the first place was clearly not about collecting taxes. It was truly, as Chibwe correctly points out, about silencing a critical voice. And this agenda was going to be carried out with or without taxes. Tax issues have just been brought in as pretext.

And it was clear from the behavior of the Zambia Revenue Authority that its mission was not to collect taxes but to permanently close The Post and destroy it. They were not interested in reconciling the tax liability. They started with a figure of K101 million.

One reconciliation sitting with an international accounting firm representing The Post reduced that figure to K53 million. After that, the Zambia Revenue Authority refused to entertain any further reconciliations and demanded payment of an unreconciled amount of K53 million.

They knew very well that further reconciliations would have reduced this figure to what The Post would be able to pay and their scheme to close the newspaper would be thrown into disarray.

And this explains why even after The Post obtained an order from the Tax Appeals Tribunal to have the newspaper’s offices reopened, the Zambia Revenue Authority, with the full backing of the Zambia Police and State House, refused to comply with that order and kept The Post closed. Not knowing what to do with the decisions of the Tax Appeals Tribunal that were unfavourable to their scheme, they hired Lewis Mosho or allowed him to hire himself to them to push the newspaper into liquidation.

When one also looks at the way the provisional liquidation was obtained, one can clearly see an element of serious abuse of the judicial process. They were in a hurry to annihilate The Post.

There is no private liquidation in which so many state institutions – the Zambia Revenue Authority, Zambia Police, the Judiciary, the Zambia Environmental Management Agency, intelligence services – have been mobilised to take part.

And we challenge anyone to find any company, even a parastatal one, in which so many state institutions were involved. This was a war on The Post. What a dangerous precedent they have set for the whole country and indeed for themselves!