VAT on newspapers was introduced during late president Bingu Wa Mutharika?s reign as one way of generating funds for the 2011/12 infamous Zero-Deficit Budget (ZDB), a blue print which attracted mixed reactions among the country?s citizens, government authorities and the donor community.
Commenting on VAT removal, chairperson of the Malawi Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Malawi), Anthony Kasunda, said the removal of 16.5 percent valued?added tax in the 2012/13 national budget was proof that the Joyce Banda administration was serious about supporting the growth of the media industry in the country.
?This is good news for us and another good signal from government about how they want journalists to work in a free environment and make sure that information is accessible by everyone cheaply,? Kasunda said.
Finance Minister, Dr. Ken Lipenga announced the VAT removal when he presented the 2012/13 financial budget in parliament on Friday, June 8, 2012.
Speaking on the same, Media Council of Malawi Chairperson Rev. Patrick Semphere said the removal of VAT on newspapers was a welcome move and a sign that government has goodwill for the media in the country.
Said Semphere: ?We (Media Council of Malawi) and MISA-Malawi have been fighting for the removal of that tax. The removal is a step in the right direction. It is an indication that government has goodwill at heart for the media.?
General Manager for Blantyre Newspapers Limited, Dr. Tikhala Chibwana also welcomed the removal of the VAT and added that the company would go back to the drawing board to consider newspaper cover prices because its adjustment to the current price was partly due to the VAT.
?That is a welcome development. I think the idea to tax public information was a very wrong idea and government has done the right thing. We have been speaking against it and for anybody in the media, especially in print, that is what we expected,? said Chibwana.
Alfred Ntonga, deputy chief executive officer and editor-in-chief of Nation Publications Limited, also hailed the removal of VAT on newspapers, saying it is a step forward in correcting the many mistakes made by the previous Mutharika administration.
?Access to information is a right in democratic Malawi. By imposing VAT on newspapers which are already very expensive to produce, the previous administration was simply pushing them beyond the reach of the majority of Malawians,? he said.
Continued Ntonga: ?The so-called zero-deficit budget the previous regime introduced last year required broadening the tax base, but I strongly suspect that the real reason for the VAT on newspapers was to reduce their circulation. The Mutharika administration was averse to critical media.?
Malawi?s economy had been nose-diving for about a year after the late Mutharika picked a fight with major donors, which led to a US$121 million budget hole in the 2011/12 fiscal year. However, the new government of Joyce Banda, which came into power in April, has worked to restore aid flows in addition to repealing repressive laws, most of which were targeted at journalists.Post published in: Africa News