Misa-Malawi ‘pleased’ with removal of VAT on newspapers

Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi chapter has welcomed the decision by President Joyce Banda’s government to remove value added tax (VAT) on newspapers and internet services.

The former ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) introduced a standard VAT rate of 16.5% on several goods which included  newspapers last year when late president Bingu wa Mutharika introduced a zero deficit budget.

But presenting the “recovery” budget on Friday, Finance Minister Ken Lipenga told Parliament that the Banda government has removed VAT on newspapers and internet services “to allow Malawians access information at affordable prices.”

Misa-Malawi chairperson Anthony Kasunda told Nyasa Timesthat the media watchdog is “very pleased” that the punitive VAT on newspapers and news print have been removed.

Malawi papers

“To us that was a government ploy of denying people information because the taxes made the newspaper to be expensive,” said Kasunda.

“Information is power and it is only an informed society that can be able to hold those that govern accountable. So we are glad that the Joyce Banda administration has removed VAT,” the Misa-Malawi chairperson said.

Repealing of media ban law

The media watchdog also said it welcomed the repealing of a sweeping amendment to the country’s penal code which had allowed the government to ban any news “not in the public interest.”

The amendment to Section 46 of the penal code was first introduced in November 2010 under the late Mutharika, and would have allowed the information minister to ban any publication it deemed contrary to public interest for an unspecified period of time.

“On section 46, we are glad that sanity has returned because we should not forget that it is the same Parliament that amended the section. We think this is the good starting point because there are several pieces of legislation that infringe on media freedom and we have on several occasions brought these to the attention of authorities in government,” Kasunda said.

He said the Malawi media would like government to “consider reviewing some of these bad laws.”

Kasunda urged government to ensure the press can work freely and without fear of reprisal.”

Press freedom conditions deteriorated under former President Mutharika’s leadership.

In March, Albert Mungomo, a former government spokesman, issued a statement warning journalists that the government would use a colonial-era law to imprison and fine them for any material it found insulting to the president.

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