Malawi’s so-called media giant, The Times Group, has been dealt a heavy blow following the closure of its offices and seizure of property at its Blantyre Head Office by the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA).
The company, which is owned by the family of fallen dictator, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, and has strong links to opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), owes MRA about K2 billion in income tax.
Times Group is currently in court to avoid paying K1.3 billion which MRA has been demanding. This time, MRA is requiring MRA to pay another tax bill of K670 million.
According to a statement issued by the Malawi Revenue Authority, “The tax liability relates to non-payment Value-Added Tax, Corporate Tax, Fringe Benefit Tax, Withholding Tax, Pay As You Earn for a specified period between January 2011 and March 2016.”
This development sharply contrasts the reputation of the media company which, like any other media house, holds every citizen to accountability on paying taxes.
Sources within the establishment say even though Times Group also owes a commercial bank hundreds of millions of kwacha. The company once borrowed $1.4 million (K10.5 billion) to invest in radio and television expansion on the miscalculation that they would make money out of signal distribution.
But the management of the company has always blamed its financial woes on Government. The company’s top managers pay themselves huge salaries and other benefits while junior staff like reporters earn as low as K40, 000.
“The problem is that top managers like the managing editor, Mr George Kasakula and the managing director, Mr Leonard Chikadya, use the company for their own benefits. They give themselves huge allowances for nothing,” said the source, opting for anonymity.
According to the inside source, staff at the company could not be paid their October salaries in time because Chikadya’s contract had been renewed and he had demanded that he should be paid his pension right away.
“The money which was meant to be used as salaries for the company’s staff was paid to Chikadya. It was about K20 million. Workers at the company received their salaries from the 8th of the following month. I think managers who know how to run a company should even have been good at paying the taxes instead of stealing the money,” said the source.
It is also reported that Chikadya single-handedly procured printing machines at exorbitant prices with the aim of siphoning money for himself. The machine now regularly breaks down and even its printing quality is very poor.
“Management also claimed to have bought TV equipment like cameras at K5 million each even though they actually cost K1 million. All this was a deliberate move aimed at stealing the company’s money and they succeeded. One wonders whether the board of directors does not see anything wrong with the company’s management,” said the source.
Meanwhile, it has also emerged that junior workers at the company have gone for over two years without a substantial salary increment while the top managers award themselves huge salaries and allowances.
Observers, including some staff at the company, say they don’t see the media giant surviving for the next two years due to poor management which has resulted in the company owing several entities money in billions.
The action by MRA has come after several reminders to the company that it should settle its tax arrears which date to several years back.
Information that we have further indicates that Times Group owes Old Mutual millions of kwacha because the company has not been remitting pensions for its employees despite being at the forefront faulting other companies over the same.
The company also failed to pay pension to its deceased photojournalist, Bonex Julius, because it was not remitting his pension. It fired Julius, but lied to the nation that he had retired. (BY JETHRO KAMWENDO)