Malawi’s biggest media firm, the Times Group, which has been critical of the government and investigated controversial maize contracts, has said there is a plot to completely shut them down, saying the action of Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) to shut the group’s offices in Blantyre on Friday over allegations unpaid taxes is one of the machinations to gag them.
And despite in public knowledge that Times Group operations were paralysed with he shut down, Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) has joined the clampdown plot, demanding an explanation from the management of the news organisation why it did not follow program formats and schedule on Friday.
Macra director general Godfrey Itaye in a letter dated January 13, 2017 addressed to Station Manager of Times Television and Times Radio queried why they did not follow programme schedules and formats on Friday – the time they were taken off air.
“Times Television relayed feed from BBC without carrying out any other programming, whilst Times Radio played music the whole day. There was no formal communication made to the Authority on the programming change,” Itaye wrote.
He said the licence for TV and radio, the Times are “prohibited from changing over 20 percent of your programme schedule without authorisation from the Authority.”
Itaye asked Times to “explain in writing within seven working days” why id did not follow the program formats.
The news organisation resumed its operation on Saturday after a court injunction was obtained retaining the tax body from shutting down the company and it was served to MRA lawyer Felix Tambulasi.
George Kasakula, Times editor-in-chief, claimed the action of MRA is “politically motivated.”
Kasakula suggested the closure was linked to coverage of how President Peter Mutharika’s government had bought expensive emergency maize from neighbouring Zambia during the recent drought.
“We will continue to publish and broadcast truth,” he said.
And on Saturday the Malawi News, one of the titles of the group hit the streets with a defiant headline: “We are still out.”
In the paper, the editorial comment said tax authority were acting on orders from political masters to clamp down on the company which is owned by the family of the late founding president Ngwazi Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
“We believe, at the instigation of the Peter Mutharika’s government, the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) sent to Times Group a tax liability claim amounting to K675 million and was delivered to our office late afternoon on Thursday. Before we could even digest the claim and take the necessary action as a responsible law abiding corporate citizen, an MRA team backed by gun totting policemen stormed our head office on Friday morning demanding a pound of our flesh. The MRA team sealed our offices and ordered all Times Group employees out,” explained the editorial comment.
The group promised to give the public their tax compliant history and how MRA has changed their status from being a normal tax payer to high tax payer over the years in due course.
“We will also give the public our efforts at resolving all outstanding tax issues that have remained unsolved and how MRA spurned us when we wanted an amicable end to them. Suffice to say at the moment that this action by MRA is political,” reads the editorial.
The paper claimed the tax collector is being used by the Peter Mutharika government to get even with them.
“It is not a secret that we have been at the forefront speaking for the poor people of Malawi at a time an irresponsible government is running roughshod on them.
“It is not a secret that we have taken a lead in revealing the shenanigans surrounding the importation of maize by Admarc but which was overseen by the Ministry of Agriculture, a process that ended up in a poor Malawian paying K7500 more for the price of a 50-kg bag of maize he or she was paying only K5000 only last year. This is a 150 percent rise! It is this that has landed us in this hot soup,”
The paper described the action by MRA as an attempt by the DPP government to shut them down “with a view to stop Malawians from listening to all views surrounding issues of national importance.”
“What the President and his government want is for the people of Malawi to listen one view, their view, through the propaganda that the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) is churning out day and day out.
“This impunity, by a government that has no clue on how to govern in the 21st Century, should not be allowed to stand by all Malawians that love their country and cherish the democracy that this country adopted after the 1993 referendum which allowed for plural politics.”
The newspaper said Malawi belongs to all Malawians and “not to cabal of elites who think they have a God-given right to run it down and the rest of us must keep our mouths shut to give them more leverage to do more damage.”
Times has vowed not to be cowed by the “ cowardly act” to silence them through wrong tax liabilities.
It stressed that the matter is not about tax but Times group stand and opposition to impunity and corruption by a government that has lost it.
Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi chapter chairperson Thom Khanje said in a statement: “The move gives the impression that government is taking systematic steps to suffocate media.”
He appealed to the government to “allow for a progressive means of resolving any tax issues.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :