The continued and blatant abuse of the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) as a political tool aimed at destroying The Post newspaper is a double tragedy for Zambia.
Firstly, tax compliance is significantly dependent on the taxpayers’ trust and perceived fairness of the overall revenue collection system just as much as it is on the robustness of the existing operational systems. Today we have a ZRA that is highly discredited, corrupt and relegated to a political cadre-driven agency.
The continued closure of The Post and harassment of any business house deemed to be transacting with it may make sense in the distorted thinking of the Patriotic Front leadership, but it is harmful for the reputation of the ZRA.
Secondly and in agreement with the sentiments of Professor Oliver Saasa, any sensible investor today attaches a premium to economies that guarantee press freedom and are politically stable. Over the past decades, under today’s globalised capitalism, press freedom is monitored, assessed and attached weight in financial and foreign direct investment decision-making. Press freedom and political stability have therefore increasingly become intangible economic assets. All countries with reasonable and committed leadership are making progress in these areas; yet Zambia is moving backwards.
As things stand today, Zambia is headed for a turbulent and insecure political future. The absence of an independent and critical press exacerbates the situation. The risk for foreign and local investors will therefore continue to grow.
My advice to the new Minister of Finance is that he should quickly restore some sanity at ZRA, making it more professional and less dependent on the PF cadres within the agency, at State House and Cabinet Office. Otherwise his compromised appointment will even get worse and implementation of the IMF support programme will be a nightmare.
He should also try to build a bridge between the PF cadres in Cabinet positions who are fuelling hate, violence and chaos in the country -and the minority that thinks some technocratic solutions are still possible. The former are not concerned about political and economic stability, the latter are. Felix Mutati could build the bridge between the two groups. Maybe that could moderate the situation and help in cleaning the international “Zambian brand” disgraced by political violence, fragmentation of the country along regional lines, a failed referendum, judiciary scandals and a corrupt petty bourgeois leadership.
Of course my advice to the Minister of Finance would also be that he convinces the PF leadership to immediately open The Post in line with the recommendations of the Revenue Tribunal. As far as I know, The Post newspaper wants and is ready to pay what it duly owes the ZRA. All that is required is that the concerned parties sit down before the tribunal, reconcile the figures with help of independent tax experts, draw up a repayment schedule and agree on a joint monitoring plan. The management of The Post has outlined this process several times.
However, for the sake of establishing political hegemony and suppressing any divergent views, the PF leadership would like to annihilate the newspaper. It is a short sighted and dangerous political stance. The sooner the newspaper is opened the better.
Let us also not forget the fact that over 1,000 employees are today denied the source of their livelihoods. They have gone for months without a salary, families are starving, children have been withdrawn from schools, access to medical facilities is no longer possible and the psychological trauma being inflicted on the staff and their dependents is immense.
And all this is done in whose interest? Under which underlying values? Is this really the Zambian society we would like to be associated with? Again, this is a compelling human and moral ground for opening The Post newspaper immediately!