Charamba lies to editors

george_charambaHARARE - George Charamba, (Pictured) President Robert Mugabe's spokesman, is still furious that the Finance Minister lifted punitive duty on imported newspapers.

Addressing a UNESCO seminar for editors at St Lucia Park in Harare last week, Charamba – a sworn enemy of press freedom – said he was staunchly against the removal of punitive luxury duty on The Zimbabwean and its sister titles The Zimbabwean on Tuesday and The Zimbabwean on Sunday.

Finance minister Tendai Biti scrapped the 40% duty (reduced from 55% earlier in the year) in a mid-term fiscal policy review statement presented to Parliament in July, saying it was tantamount to an infringement on Zimbabweans right to freely access information and also ran against international best practice. The15% cost, insurance and freight import duty remains in place.

The duty-free regime came into effect on August 1.

“I do not agree that Wilf Mbanga’s Zimbabwean or the South African-published Sunday Times must come into this market free of charge,” Charamba told editors.

“Meanwhile newsprint imported from South Africa is made to pay duty. Mbanga pays nothing except what it takes to ship in his product. Trevor Ncube (publisher of The Zimbabwe Independent and The Standard) pays all-round: from rates to NSSA, only to meet a footloose Mbanga at the stalls. Ncube creates jobs here. Mbanga takes them to England. He does the same with his sales. Lets not build market chasms. The practice of cover tax is worldwide. Its meant to encourage growth and diversity on the home markets.”

Mbanga responded by setting the record straight: “Contrary to Charambas misleading statement, The Zimbabwean has actually been transferring money from the UK to Zimbabwe to pay the punitive duties imposed on our newspaper. Every issue has been charged 70% import duty since June last year – following the hijacking and burning of our truck carrying 60,000 copies of the Sunday edition of May 25th 2008. We have paid Zimra more than R3 million in foreign currency half of this during 2008 when other importers were paying duty in Zimbabwe dollars. Since August 1st, 2009, we have continued to pay 15% duty at the border on every issue – including cost, transport/freight and insurance – the value of which is determined by Zimra. We do not take any money out of Zimbabwe,” said Mbanga.

Despite Charamba’s remonstrations, media and human rights groups say the punitive taxation threatened the economic viability of imported newspapers and constituted a clear breach of the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by numerous international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Zimbabwe is signatory.

The duty was clearly imposed in an apparent bid to cripple operations of The Zimbabwean and its sister titles, and its failure to do so has incensed Charamba.

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