A senior official at the State-controlled Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) has made a frantic plea to the government to write off a staggering K4.5 billion debt in tax arrears which has accumulated over 11 years, saying the huge debt was choking its operations.
MBC Director of News and Programmes, Geoffrey Kazembe, nearly went on his knees, begging the legislators sitting on a joint committees of Industry, Trade and Tourism and Media, Information and Communications to lobby the government to write off the debt.
“This will cripple us for years to come. Please lobby for us for MRA [Malawi Revenue Authority] to relent a little bit on us. We are all in the same country called Malawi. We pray the government tells MRA to write off this debt,” Kazembe said.
MRA Commissioner General, Thom Malata, said his organisation had engaged the Secretary to the Treasury on the matter.
“We have engaged the Secretary to the Treasury to see how best to handle this issue,” Malata said.
MRA spokesperson, Steve Kapoloma, said MBC makes special arrangements with MRA to pay the debt in agreed instalments.
“The problem is that others rush to the courts. Our mandate is not to close down companies or institutions but collect taxes. Therefore, if there is a huge debt, let them come to us and make arrangements on how best they can repay it by instalments,” Kapoloma said.
However, Lilongwe Central MP Lobin Lowe, a member of a joint Public Accounts Committee of Parliament and Budget and Finance Committee, accused MRA of playing double standards.
Speaking to the MRA officials in an adjacent room, Lowe said the authority acts under political influence when it closes down some private media institutions deemed critical of the government while leaving out MBC with a staggering debt.
He singled out Times Group as a victim of MRA double standards and political influence.
MRA closed down Times Group in January on allegations the country’s biggest media empire was not remitting tax, but a cross section of Malawians and civil rights groups observed that the government ordered the closure following its consistent reportage on the purchase of maize from Zambia which led to the firing of minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, George Chaponda, and suspension of Admarc Chief Executive Officer, Foster Mulumbe, and other officials.
However, Malata said there was no political influence at the revenue collecting body, describing MRA as a professional and independent body, working hard to meet a given target.
MRA is expected to collect K918 billion in the 2017/18 financial year for the K1.3 trillion National Budget and officials say they are optimistic they would achieve the revenue target if all economic factors do not drastically change.
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