By Awa B. Bah
Yankuba Darboe, Commissioner General, Gambia Revenue Authority (GRA) has said that GRA is already in the process of taking the Observer Company to court. Speaking in an interview yesterday, the GRA Commissioner stated that all the necessary documents have been sent and they are waiting for response from the court.
“Observer is like any other newspaper or business in the Gambia who is paying their taxes accordingly, I don’t see any exception why Observer is not paying their taxes,” said Commissioner Darboe.
He maintains that they will sue the Observer Company to court and whatever the decision of the court is, they will go by it.
He explains that GRA does not jump on any business to shut it down considering the interest of the economy, adding that GRA calls for more businesses in the Gambia.
“We do sympathize the situation with the Observer’s employees; however, it cannot be used as an excuse for not paying taxes; even if the company employs thousands of people, that does not qualify the company from paying taxes to government,” Darboe remarked.
On their agreement, “We could not come to terms because Daily Observer did not want to put anything on the table as far as our request is concerned. From the onset, what we told them was we requested 30% of the amount because we know they cannot pay the 17 million or half of it,” Darboe remarked.
It could be recalled that the Gambia Press Union issued a press release stating its withdrawal from the Daily Observer’s negotiation with GRA to set up a realistic payment plan so as the newspaper can resume operations. “The GPU’s position remains that shutting down Daily Observer is not an option to be explored at this point. Closure would be a disproportionate measure as the harm that it would cause to free expression and welfare of journalists would outweigh the benefits,” the release stated.
The Commissioner of GRA explains that he was notified of the GPU withdrawal from the discussions on the observer tax liability issue, adding that GPU was there to mediate and make sure that the situation is addressed as they were interested in Daily Observer finding a way of settling the matter to avoid mounting the box at the court.
According to Commissioner Darboe, the managements of both GRA and the Daily Observer have held a series of meetings before the temporal closure of the observer company to set a road map on how to address the situation of tax liability of the company owed to GRA way back in 2002 to date.
With all the meetings conducted, he said that they could not come to conclusion and finally got no choice but to shut down the company on a temporal step last month.
Darboe noted that the law states that the temporal closure of a business should last for fourteen days after which GRA has to lift the closure of the company.
“What we intended and thought would have worked during the temporal closure was that for the Daily Observer management to come to GRA and make a down payment of certain amount with a payment plan,” said Darboe.
He said that GPU was part of the negotiation and what came up was for the Daily Observer to put down a payment of 30% of D17 million that is D5.1 million while the remaining balance be worked out on payment plan.
Observer, he said was not willing to cooperate saying that the company cannot afford to settle a 30% deposit.
Darboe said they are surprised that Daily Observer don’t have money to pay but want to operate the newspaper business knowing that it is illegal because every business that is operating in the Gambia is subject to the payment of taxes.
Darboe further said that the Daily Observer wrote a letter dated 27th June, 2017 requesting GRA management to consider giving them a long term payment plan of twenty five years which according to Darboe is unbelievable, calling it a drop in the ocean.
“My message to any tax payer is that Gambia is a tax based economy and cannot operate business without payment of taxes”, said Darboe, adding that even the developed world are built on taxes much more of a developing country like the Gambia.
Commission Darboe finally called for tax compliance saying that GRA will leave no stone unturned and anyone who owes tax will be followed and will pay or fall under the ruling of the law.
According to the GPU release, the establishment of the Union is to cement the principles of freedom, truth, integrity and honesty, and initiating interventions for the re-opening of Daily Observer was a hope and expectation that the talks would be based on truth and honesty. “Unfortunately, the GPU has been forced to withdraw from the talks due to the incorrigible behavior of the leadership of the Daily Observer newspaper,” the release said.
Pa Modou Mbowe, the Managing Director of the Daily Observer Newspaper has this to say on the GPU’s withdrawal. He said GPU was never invited into this matter and they did not played any role in addressing it. He welcomed the GPU’s idea of withdrawal as according to him, GPU were only particular about who owns Daily Observer which he does not know.
On GRA’s payment plan, the Daily Observer MD said, “GRA asked us to submit our documents and we did.” However, Mbowe said they do not have the 30% down payment that GRA requested for.
He said that Daily Observer is not aware of GRA’s decision of taking them to court. This he went on would be better because that way the court will rule for the better. He said he will be pleased if GRA and Daily Observer meet in court as a final agreement will be reached at the court level.
The court he said will examine and cross-examine everything in terms of income and expenditures. The Observer M.D said his consideration is the 105 staff if not he will let GRA take whatever decision but he is ready to defend the company in the interest of its staff to make sure that their wellbeing is not compromised.
“I found most of them working here for years, I am the only one who came in December”, said Mbowe pointing out that they laid a suggestion to GRA for Observer to pay fifty thousand per month putting into account current financial status of the company.
“We sent them a request together with above our current payment supplication, TAYECAT, cooperate tax as well with all expenditure and income documents on a daily and monthly bases so that they can understand with this fifty thousand, we are not paying it out of willingness but out of Daily Observer not being a profit oriented business,” Mbowe said.
GRA, he noted, should be in a better position to know who owns the company that they are taxing.
“I assumed office on the 19th of December and I found 17 million debt liability with one and a half million to be paid to social security as well with paying staff salaries,” said Mbowe, further pointing out that his concerns were how to keep Daily Observer moving and the staff salaries.
The two accounts of the company he said were in the red; he stated that all the staff is behind him in this situation as it is in their interest. He said otherwise he would have gone to England but because of the 105 staff working there, “I cannot give them a blind eye since I did not do it during the impasse, he concluded.
It could be recalled that on Wednesday, June 14, 2017, the Gambia Revenue Authority (GRA) ordered the Daily Observer to cease operations over taxes owed over time amounting to D17 Million.