M’membe would be in jail in the US – Kaingu

IT IS a criminal offence in the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union to evade or avoid paying taxes and it is ironical as well as hypocritical for diplomats of these countries in Zambia to support criminal activities such as evading tax for which they would have jailed their own citizens, Michael Kaingu has charged.

According to Dr Kaingu, who is Minister of Higher Education, it is economic sabotage for The Post newspaper to have withheld K53 million from the Government Treasury in an economy its proprietor, Fred M’membe, had consistently claimed had collapsed, leaving millions of its citizens in abject poverty.

Dr Kaingu said in Europe and the United States, it was a criminal offence to evade or withhold taxes and that Mr M’membe would have been arrested and jailed for failing to settle the more than US$5 million tax debt and that The Post newspaper would have been closed.

Dr Kaingu said the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) had been ‘‘more than fair’’ in dealing with The Post and that the tabloid had been allowed to continue publishing even after its printing plant had been shut to conduct a forensic inventory of the assets and the value against what it owed Government.

He said it was theft of public resources for The Post newspaper to have accumulated more than US$5 million in taxes in a country whose economy was struggling with the population living in squalor because of high poverty levels.

“Let Zambians know that K53 million is a huge amount of money that could have done a lot for this country if it had been taken to the Treasury.  In the United States and Europe, it is a criminal offence, and not civil, for anyone to evade paying tax and The Post newspaper would have been closed a long time ago and its proprietor Fred M’membe would have been arrested and jailed.

‘‘Some of the embassies that have come out strong in supporting The Post newspaper’s action to avoid paying tax would never allow this kind of criminality in their countries and we are wondering why they are rebuking authorities over the closure of the tabloid,” said Dr Kaingu. Dr Kaingu said The Post had been flourishing without paying tax and that the tabloid had abused the relationship it enjoyed with previous governments by avoiding to pay tax.

He said foreign countries that had chosen to come to the defence of The Post newspaper were playing double standards because they knew fully well that in their countries such impunity would never be tolerated.

Dr Kaingu said it was on record that The Post newspaper had accumulated more than K27 billion by 2009 and that when the Revenue Appeals Tribunal ordered the newspaper to pay, the tax debt was reduced to K16 million which was written off in circumstances that were less than clear.   The minister said The Post should just pay the K53 million instead of politicising the issue and dragging the name of President Edgar Lungu into it who was not there when the debt was allowed to accumulate.