Times Group last evening obtained an injunction from the High Court in Blantyre restraining the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) from shutting it down.
Times Group editor-in- chief George Kasakura confirmed about the development in an interview. Earlier in the day MRA officials accompanied by heavily armed police officers seized records and vehicles of the media group at Ginnery corner and sealed the offices.
In a statement, MRA head of corporate affairs Steve Kapoloma said Times was sealed for failure to settle a tax liability amounting to K675 969 316.75.
“The amount comprises of K504 962 332.87 as taxes due and K171 006 983.89 as penalties and interests. The tax liability relates to non-payment for Value Added Tax, Corporate Tax, Fringe Benefit Tax, Withholding Tax, Pay As You Earn for specified periods between January 2011 to March 2016,” reads the statement in part.
Misa-Malawi chairperson Thom Khanje said just like any business Times Media Group is mandated to pay its tax.
“We hope MRA is acting in good faith. If it [MRA] is on a [tax collection] campaign, well and good, but we expect, therefore, to see them closing down other companies that owe them too, even those belonging to politicians in government,” he said.
But Kasakula was quoted by Times Online publication times.mw yesterday as saying he suspects the move is politically motivated, saying: “Times has been remitting its taxes every month”.
“MRA has seized our offices over taxes and yet we have been paying taxes every month. It is impunity and lawlessness on the part of the government. Just imagine, they came with a notice yesterday and, instead of offering us a chance for negotiations as they do in such cases—as you know that sometimes their figures can be wrong and you negotiate—they came 12 hours later to seize our property,” times.mw quotes Kasakula as saying.
The group’s online publication also said Times Radio and Television were only airing music and recorded programmes.
The sealing of Times Media Group comes fast on the heels of publications of articles on maize involving suspended Admarc chief executive officer Foster Mulumbe and Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda.
Following the publications, Admarc on December 29 2016 served Times Group with an injunction restraining the media group from publishing anything related to the maize transaction. The injunction was vacated on Monday.
The revelations in the media have made civil society organisations (CSOs) in the country to exert pressure on government and want Chaponda to step down to allow for smooth investigations into the deal. However, government maintains there is no need for such an action.
A statement released on Thursday by Ministry of Information and Communication Technology faults the move by the Mzuzu High Court that gave an injunction to a group of CSOs restraining Chaponda from discharging his duties as Cabinet minister. n