No more duty!

tendai_biti_finance_HARARE Finance Minister Tendai Biti has scrapped the punitive duty on newspapers printed or published from outside the country, in a move greeted with excitement by publishers who had endured more than a year of the controversial tax.

Presenting his mid-year fiscal policy last Thursday, Biti said the 40 percent import duty on foreign published newspapers was tantamount to an infringement on Zimbabweans right to freely access information and ran against international best practice.

In order to encourage the development of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in line with international trends, I propose to reduce rates of customs duty on computers, printers and telephone handsets and newspapers, with effect from 1 August 2009, the minister said in parliament.

The controversial duty was slapped in June 2008 as part of measures by the then Zanu (PF)-led government of President Robert Mugabe to cripple operations of newspapers like this one and its sister publication The Zimbabwean that are published from out side the country.

Under the regulations which set out the newspaper levy, imported newspapers, journals and periodicals were classified as luxury goods that should attract duty. At the time, Mugabes spokesman George Charamba accused foreign publications of peddling lies about the country.

Zimbabwe has seen a proliferation of foreign publications, mostly from South Africa, since the political and economic crisis started eight years ago. The Zimbabwean on Sunday and The Zimbabwean, is produced by locals living in exile in the United Kingdom and the two publications are the dominant titles in their market segment.

Publisher of the two papers Wilf Mbanga welcomed the decision to scrap duty on imported newspapers. We obviously welcome the news since the duty was affecting our viability. For the record, we have paid more than R2.85 million in duty on The Zimbabwean and The Zimbabwean On Sunday since the punitive duty was imposed in June 2008, Mbanga said. “By the time the duty is lifted on August 1, this will rise to R3 million.”

Similar taxation measures announced by Biti included the scrapping of duty on imported mobile phone handsets and computers. Mobile phone handsets have until now attracted import duty of 25 percent while computers and printers cost the importer an additional five percent in duty.

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