Government yesterday commissioned the new Zambia Daily Mail Limited printing press with a pledge that Government will not interfere in the work of the public media as it plays its role of informing the nation.
Government through information minister Ronnie Shikap[washa said as sole shareholder of the Zambia Daily Mail newspaper, Government will closely monitor the performance of the company to see the positive changes that the machine will generate.
Government said the Zambia Daily Mail should use the multi-billion Kwacha printing press to increase its readership in the country.
But there are a lot of questions regarding the purchase of this big machine.
CHARLES MUNDALE AND THE USD3MILLION PRINTING PRESS
Recently Daily mail purchased a USD3million printing press.
The capacity of this press is 35,000 – 50,000 copies per hour. The Daily Mail currently has a circulation of 7000 – 15,000 copies a day. If this press will be used for printing the newspaper only, it will be using 3 – 5% capacity only.
The type of printing press purchased by the ZDM is suitable as a multipurpose printer such as used by Government Printers. Alternatively it can be used as a central printing press which prints a dozen newspapers a night.
Charles Mundale was until recently an Executive Director of Southern African Media Development Fund (SAMDEF) a development and business wing of Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA).
SAMDEF was established by MISA to respond to the financial needs of the media in Southern Africa. The Media Industry is a business like any other. However, this business, MISA recognised, is sensitive to political dynamics thereby requiring special treatment.
Traditional sources of investment funds – Banks, usually do not bother about this sensitivity because they are primarily motivated by profit. They will therefore lend where prospects of returns are guaranteed and where the risk of potential default is low.
The media in Africa is generally regarded as high risk. The circumstances surrounding the registration and regulation of newspapers, radio or television stations by governments, is heavy. This media (especially independent media) can be shut done willy-nilly and their survival sometimes depends on politicians or governments.
To promote investment in the media and access to resources, MISA launched a fund now known as SAMDEF, Southern Africa Media Development Fund. Different donors put their money into the fund for the purpose of lending to media businesses at rates and conditions below those obtaining in traditional lending institutions.
It is easy for the borrower to negotiate with SAMDEF in the event of difficulties to pay back something that traditional lending institutions cannot do. SAMDEF has written-off numerous loans from the media than traditional lending institutions could ever have done.
Against this backdrop, media organizations in Tanzania, Mozambique, Lesotho, Malawi, Botswana and Zambia have borrowed from SAMDEF. SAMDEF has funded the establishment of radio and television stations in addition to printing presses.
In each of these cases, SAMDEF has demanded a professional business plan and cash flow projections to ascertain the capacity of the borrower to pay back. It has also encouraged a diverse shareholding structure and sound management of such institutions.
In the case of printing presses, SAMDEF has demanded the following: the size of the paper’s circulation; the accessibility of the Press to other independent newspapers; a genuine justification of the investments.
In Tanzania and Lesotho, for example, SAMDEF advised for the establishment of a separate company with a diversified shareholding before printing presses could be funded. This was because it did not make economic or business sense to invest over a million dollars in a printing press with the capacity to print 35,000 copies when the newspaper has a circulation of only five thousand!
SAMDEF would normally give a loan on the evidence that several other papers would have access to this printing press at cheaper rate. This model has worked well.
It is unlikely that a single newspaper in this region would pay back a loan on a printing press of size as procured by the Daily Mail, purely on the sale of its paper and adverts.
THE ZAMBIA DAILY MAIL CASE
It is therefore strange regarding the above, that the Zambia Daily Mail Board and Management chose a totally different route.
Charles Mundale was used as an informal agent of Hong Hua (1975) of Taiwan. Hong Hua were clients of SAMDEF in their program to procure printing presses.
Mundale appeared to use facilities and infrastructure of his former employers to help the Zambia Daily Mail procure this printing press.
Although Mundale was from SAMDEF and his good relationship with its Board and its donors is not in question, no quest or attempt was made by the Board and Management to exploit this relationship for the ZDM to obtain a cheap and easily accessible loan from SAMDEF.
Instead the Zambia Daily Mail obtained a K13.8 Billion from Finance Bank (Z) Ltd. A member of the Board, Noel Nkhoma and a long-time executive of Finance Bank sits on the Zambia Daily Mail Board. Nkhoma chairs the Finance Committee, a sub-committee the Board.
It is clear that the board was not allowed to seek this huge business from any other Bank and the process was not allowed to be competitive to promote transparency and fair access to a cheaper loan.
Serious questions have arisen regarding what securities were tendered to Finance Bank. To obtain the USD3 million loan, ZDM assets on Longolongo Road were mortgaged. The securities are expected to be returned in exchange for those of the Printing Press which will be held as security to the loan.
The ZDM is owned by the Minister of Finance and National Planning to the tune of 99%. This shareholding is held in trust and on behalf of the people of Zambia.
The regulation of the Zambia Daily Mail assets therefore belongs to the Minister of Finance and its administration requires the consent of Ministry of Works and Supply who plays a custodial role. Any alteration, expansion and demolition of such buildings require the consent of the Director of Buildings at Works& Supply.
To make alteration and structural changes to the building, that will accommodate the new printing press, the ZDM sought permission from the Director of Buildings. The authority has not been given yet.
It is therefore surprising that this loan was obtained without due process and regard to known standing regulations governing state properties and their disposal. Management and the Board have no such authority has to mortgage the assets of the Zambia Daily Mail.
The ZDM has bought very expensive equipment with capacity that far surpasses their need of printing a daily newspaper.
Why wasn’t a simple, modern and well automated machine matching the meagre resources of the Daily Mail bought instead? What motivated this extravagant and outrageous purchase with fancy technologies?
Why are Board Members quick to remind us of the technological marvel of this press, like a boy excited with a gadget having numerous flickering lights and buttons!?
In Tanzania, a similar equipment is used as a central printing press that churns out thirteen (13) different newspapers a night! In Botswana it used by the Botswana Government Printers!
Some have suggested that the ZDM have made a wise investment and should be encouraged to recoup this huge investment by commercialising the press and use its full potential of the machine.
Times of Zambia, found itself in similar circumstances in the 1970’s. Because printing is serious business requiring matching acumen in skilled human resource and particular business attention, a separate company Printpark (Z) Ltd was formed.
Many will remember the fate of this company and that Printpark was such a huge failure that its debt burden collapsed the company forcing government to merge Times of Zambia with Printpark to save jobs, now forming Times Printpark.
Did the Management and Board interrogated this matter sufficiently. Does the ZDM have capacity to exploit the potential of this new printing press? Was due consideration given to all these serious questions? Why did the Board acquire this expensive piece of equipment by burdening ZDM with a debt that seems unsustainable?
Owing to the commercial nature of this loan from Finance Bank, is it foolish to assume that the ZDM will lose its Longolongo property or the newly acquired printing press, owing to the huge and quickly growing interest on the loan?
What motivated the procurement of this huge loan and the subsequent purchase of an unsuitable equipment?
Is it the commissions that came the way of all those involved between the Taiwanese proprietor on one hand, and Charles Mundale and the ‘chief architect’ and ‘liaison officer’, of the Board on the other. Is it really fair that an employee from a rival newspaper should benefit from this transaction at the Zambia Daily Mail and prance about in a new Mercedes Benz?
Or is it the new trend in the plunder of resources in the public media? That while the eye is cast on greedy and corrupt politicians, the theft of public resources by the watchdogs goes on with impunity?
And while the fingers of the public media points towards and against the vices of politicians, its managers engages in unfettered and wanton abuse of meagre resources?
It is becoming increasingly clear that while the commitment of the troops that form the bulk of the employees of the public media is gallant, and are made to endure demeaning and appalling sacrifices, owing to the ‘meagre resources ’ while a few greedy managers are actively engaged in activities that constantly fleece on such resources.
And something strange has occurred at the ZDM with an uncharacteristic exodus of senior staff this year alone. Joy Sata left to join Standard Chartered Bank. Arlington Bota (Chief Accountant), David Ndumba, Gerald Musole, Chiinda Nyembaula and Nyangulu (HRM) have also left.
Amos Chanda abruptly took leave to finish his Law Degree and whilst he was on leave, his position was filled with a substantive appointment; it remains unknown whether he has resigned owing to his new role as communication expert for the Africa Peer Review.
The legal department has seen an exodus of its own too with Bob Musenge leaving. His successor Avin Muvwende declined to renew his contract and now the ZDM has employed George Zulu from ZESCO.
The biggest casualty was Godfrey Malama who was sacked immediately after the 2006 elections for his brave depiction and fair coverage of the campaigns and elections.
The Times of Zambia has also embarked on the purchase of a printing press and seems to be walking the same path of the Zambia Daily Mail. A loan? Against which assets?
The printing press Times of Zambia is purchasing although almost identical to the ZDM one is significantly cheaper owing to the removal of fancy options. The process however, seems wrought with similar activities as those occurring at the ZDM!
One swallow (a small bird) does not bring a summer season, but one Charles Mundale seems to bring a rainy season of very expensive printing presses to Zambia!
When the Sunday Times of 28th June 2009, dredged up a story of GTV subscribers, a window of what is happening to the movers and shakers in government was clear. An undeclared war is taking place with belligerents taking opportunities to strike at one another with the weapon being accusations of impropriety by the other.
The ZNBC Audit Report fingers blame at the Board, Management. However activities arising after of the Audit Report point to a cover up by Hon. Gen Ronnie Shikapwasha, and his Permanent Secretary Emmanuel Nyirenda at the Ministry of information and Broadcasting.
Similarly the GTV closure exposed the business interest of former Minister of Information Mike Mulongoti. Although GTV was closed owing to the decision by the parent company in England, Mulongoti however was accused of not declaring interest in the business (he was Minister of Information) and the GTV licence was granted with the speed not enjoyed by local radio and television applicants!
President Rupiah Banda’s main failure appears to be is his public image. His enemies have portrayed him as corrupt and inept and the perception is beginning to stick! Unless an efficient public media responds to his programs and that of his government, he appears doomed to failure.
It is clear that the public media is bogged down by serious issues (some criminal) to meet its statutory obligations and carry a sustained media fight on behalf of government and President Rupiah Banda.
An honest introspection of the house is the only way to thrush out the inefficiencies, despondency and lack of focus.
It surprising that the public media is constantly accused of denying the Opposition coverage and giving extensive coverage to the MMD and its government, yet all this coverage sometimes only achieves a bad name of propaganda!
And all this coverage just manages to create hostility and anger against government! How come?
When the Portfolio Committee on Communications, dissolved the SABC Board characterising it as ‘dysfunctional and no longer able to fulfil its statutory duty, the ANC Parliamentary Caucus welcomed the unanimous decision stating that ‘’It has always been our view that, in the interest of this important national asset and the people of South Africa, an urgent intervention was necessary to cure the SABC of its current and deep rooted problems.’’
The SABC has reported a financial loss of SAR839 million and was requesting government subventions totalling of SAR2billion! The Committee stated that the losses at the Broadcaster in the past year were occasioned by unrestrained and over expenditure, declining revenue and bickering by Board Members. The report also stated that Management had abandoned sound operational practices.
Further the management of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is embroiled in a scandal that implicates the Director General, Mark Thompson in expense claims. Thompson is accused of making claims for expenses made to meet costs of lavish meals, fancy hotels and booking a Cessna plane to attend to ‘urgent’ matters.
Clearly the abuse of public funds appears universal! What is it with public money? Why do people drop expected standards of practice when it comes to tax-payer’s money? How come prudency is abandoned when it is public money?
It is for this reason that constant scrutiny of government and public expenditure is required and citizens should deem it as their profound duty to report any abuse of such monies.