PF’ High Commissioner to South Africa Emmanuel Mwamba says it is absurd for the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa NUMSA to stage a protest at the embassy in Pretoria against the liquidation of The Post newspaper.
Mwamba has since invited NUMSA for talks at the mission, following a series of the union’s statements condemning the Zambian government’s stance on critical private media.
In a letter dated Tuesday March 7, 2017 addressed to Irvin Jim, Mwamba attempted to justify the liquidation of The Post, without mentioning that the Tax Appeals Tribunal ordered the reopening of the newspaper.
He further expressed worry that the planned protest would jeopardise the cordial relations and trade agreements between the two countries.
“It is therefore absurd to read your statements threatening a boycott of Zambian goods, threatening to stage picketing at the Zambian High Commission in Pretoria and pledging to raise a campaign against trade between Zambia and South Africa because of a company that has willfully failed to pay its tax obligations or broken the country’s laws,” Mwamba stated.
“Zambia is one of South Africa’s biggest regional trading partners with an average annual volume of business amounting to $3.8 billion. There are over 100 South African active companies based in Zambia, participating in all sectors of our economy. South African Airways (SAA) undertakes over 35 flights a week between Zambia and South Africa. This is before we count other carriers such as Proflight, Air Rwanda, Namibian Airways and private charter.”
He went further to elaborate how Zambia helped to liberate South Africa during the Apartheid struggle.
“It’s important to remember that Zambia hosted the people of South Africa during the liberation struggle to free South Africa from its Apartheid shackles of South Africa,” Mwamba’s statement read in part.
But when explaining what led to the liquidation of The Post, Mwamba did not mention to NUMSA that the 2016 Supreme Court ruling, which was in favour of ZRA, was made after the Post had already cleared the disputed debt.
He also did not mention that there is still a valid Tax Appeals Tribunal order instructing ZRA to open the newspaper and resolve tax claims without denying the company its much needed income.
In his letter, Mwamba also did not include the Post claims that there is evidence indicating that judge Sunday Nkonde, who is in charge of the Post liquidation, previously colluded with former president Rupiah Banda to close down the newspaper.
He described the NUMSA statements as misguided.
“We are compelled to respond because your statements purport to represent a view of the Union and because of the extent of your misdirection on the matters,” Mwamba stated.
“We have taken it upon ourselves to brief you that: in 2009, the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) issued a distress warrant to recover K53billion ($5million) in tax arrears, obligation and penalties. The paper disputed the debt and took the matter to the Courts of Law. The matter went up-to the Supreme Court. In June 2016, almost seven years after the matter commenced, the Supreme Court of Zambia ruled in favour of the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) and directed that the taxes owed be recovered for the benefit of the country and the assessment was accurate and it was incumbent upon ZRA to recover the debt as the process was done within the sanctity of the law. The debt was now standing at K68m ($6.1m).”
He further told NUMSA that the newspaper was then closed and later liquidated because it failed to settle the tax debts.
“The Post was then closed to allow ZRA assess and audit properties and assets of the newspaper company, and its subsidiaries at Bwinjimfumu Road and light Industrial premises. On 2nd November 2016, the newspaper was later placed under liquidation and the Lusaka High Court appointed a Provisional Liquidator, Messrs Lewis, Nathan & Company and Mr. Lewis Chisanga Mosho to recover monies owed and take into account financial interests of other creditors and debtors,” claimed Mwamba.
“The debt to workers, commercial banks, statutory bodies and suppliers had now risen to over $21million. Shortly after The Post was closed, the spouse to Mr. Fred M’membe, Mrs Mutinta Bumba Mazoka Mmeembe and Mr. Frank Nchimunya Sibbuku opened The Mast under a company called, Oracle Media. The Mast quickly found itself in conflict with the law suffering from strong allegations of infringing with the copyrights of The Post Newspapers in Liquidation.”