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Zambian tax-payer supported media are a disgrace To democracy

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By Munyonzwe Hamalengwa, Ph.D.

Zambia’s tax-payer supported media, namely the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation, Zambia Daily Mail and Times of Zambia, are a disgrace to Zambia’s democracy. These are the media that are the embodiment of the legacy of the dictatorial one-party system. The current government is closest to the one party system that we have had since 1991.

One example will suffice to validate my the thesis that this media is a  disgrace to democracy. And this is just a tip of the giant iceberg. When the Post newspaper obtained an injunction against Zambia Revenue Authority on Monday June 27th, 2016, all these instruments of mass deception cried in unison as if directed by central casting that the Tax Appeals Tribunal had no jurisdiction to stay a Supreme Court of Zambia Order. And further that there is no such Tribunal as such because it is not regularized under the amended constitution.

This media deliberately failed to report that, indeed decided to deliberately deceive the Zambian people who pay their salaries whose PAYE and VAT they have failed to pay to ZRA, that the said stay Order had nothing to do with the previous Supreme Court Order, that this new stay order was to address a new tax grab by ZRA. They deliberately decided to hoodwink the Zambian people that under the rule of law calculus, which Zambia is supposed to be, but for the de facto one-party state masquerading as a democracy, any person or entity that files an objection to a tax bill, has the right to challenge that bill through the Tax Tribunal. You don’t engage in demonstrations or revolution, you go to legal tribunals set up for that purpose. It is like a criminal case, if you believe you are not guilty, you challenge the charge and go to trial. You don’t plead guilty unless you are guilty, under normal circumstances.

The court can not sentence you to death before trial and before you are pronounced guilty. ZRA authority pronounced The Post guilty without a trial and in violation of the tax laws and constitution of this country that allow for an objection if one is not satisfied with the tax bill.

Further these media deliberately and therefore fraudulently fail to inform the Zambian people that they too owe ZRA and therefore the Zambian people, millions of kwacha in arrears. This is money that these institutions have already collected through PAYE and VAT. Where does this money go to? They fail to report that the tax law does not distinguish between parastatals or government agencies on the one hand, and private institutions in the other hand. In the eyes of the law, no one including the President is above the law. It is no defence whatsoever that one is a parastatal or government agency and therefore cannot be compelled to pay the already secured tax revenue from the tax-payer.

The most serious crime of these tax-payer supported media is the  deliberate failure and total silence in order to deceive the Zambian people, to report that on Friday July 1, 2016, the Tax Appeals Tribunal lambasted ZRA for ignoring an official Order from the Tribunal set out as Instrument No. 1 of 2015, that the Tribunal contrary to the wailings of these Tax-payer supported media, has jurisdiction to issue said Order which Order under a rule of law regime should have been obeyed forthwith, meaning immediately. Had The Post brought an application for contempt of court, there would have been severe consequences for ZRA.

Jacob Zuma leading a strong and mighty ANC government obeys court orders. The tax-payer funded South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) obeys court orders, indeed it tries to fairly report the doings of the opposition by disseminating balanced news. Why can’t this government emulate the Zuma regime by for once obeying lawful court Orders? The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), a tax-payer funded national broadcaster has refused to short-change democracy by refusing to report unbalanced and Hitlerite-like coverage of the news in relation to opposition parties. The British Broadcasting Corporation( BBC),  tax-payer funded news outlet covers all news all the time including that of the opposition  in a balanced fashion. Why can’t the Zambia tax-payer funded media emulate these stellar examples of how media is supposed to operate under a democracy?

The SABC was like ZNBC, Daily Mail and Times of Zambia while under apartheid. Once apartheid was abolished, the SABC too changed and paradigm-shifted to conform to the imperatives of democracy. The Zambian tax-payer funded media named above are still stuck like an ostrich whose head is in the sand under the rubric of the one-party state. Meanwhile Zambia is supposed to have moved on in the last quarter century. Or has it? There will always be forces who will try to drag the nation stagnant. But the wheels of history and the future always win. Zambia was once free. And Zambia shall be free.

Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa teaches law at Zambian Open University.

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