Pay newspaper's debt if you want it back, Zambian leader tells US envoys
30 June 2016, 16:41
Lusaka - Zambian President Edgar Lungu has told United State diplomats to raise the funds owed by The Post newspaper to the Zambian Revenue Authority (ZRA) if they feel that the newspaper is being victimised, The Post reports.
Lungu met with the diplomats on Wednesday at the State House.
He later released a statement saying that the ZRA could not choose when to enforce its laws on the basis that there was an upcoming elections.
"It is worth noting that the judicial proceedings concerning ZRA and The Post newspaper are not new. This matter cannot be stayed because of elections. When is it the right time for courts to act independently? This issue of The Post newspaper was there as far back as 2009. When we came into power in 2011, we found it.
"Some of you are saying that the timing of the court’s decision is awkward. Tell me when is the right time to do this? You are the same people, saying the tax system in Zambia is not efficient, that we are not collecting tax for development projects," Lungu was quoted as saying.
He also questioned why the diplomats felt they were entitled to share their opinion on the matter, as Zambian diplomats in their country would never feel obliged to comment on US policies.
Post editor-in-chief Fred M'membe has denied Lungu's accusation that the tax claims go as far back as 2009. He said that the demand of K53m against The Post was made last week. He added that documents support his claim and it was clear that the matter had not been before any court.
Zambian authorities ordered the closure of the publishing company, Post Newspapers Limited, on June 21, demanding $6.1m in tax arrears.
The Post criticised government’s actions, calling them illegal, as it had already paid partial amounts it owed in taxes and even had a court order to prevent its closure, reports said.
The closure of The Post came as election campaigning was gaining momentum, with the critically independent newspaper being outspoken in its reporting of illegal activities and corruption by the government.
On July 15, 2015, M'membe was arrested along with a journalist for an article they published. The article discussed the investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) of a presidential aide accepting a bribe.
The Post published a letter from the ACC to Lunga informing him of its investigation, which led to the journalists being arrested for publishing classified information.