Minister of Information Dora Siliya says government shall make a decision to either liquidate, recaptalise or look for an equity partner to revamp Times of Zambia Printpak because it cannot continue pumping money into a loss-making institution.
Siliya was responding to a question from Kabompo UPND member of parliament Ambrose Lufuma who wondered why the state run media house could not be liquidated after she told parliament that it was highly indebted.
The Minister said Times of Zambia employees had not been paid for seven months.
“The payment of all employees at Times of Zambia is not up to date. There are 284 employees at the Times of Zambia. Seven months salaries are in arrears, amounting to K9 million. The arrears are from June 2017 to December 2017. Mr Speaker, the government is committed to seeing to it that all outstanding arrears are cleared as soon as possible. Currently, the employees at Times of Zambia have started receiving their monthly salaries without a backlog. Sometimes they are remunerated twice in a month as a strategy to settle the outstanding salary arrears. And the [other challenge] Mr Speaker is that there was no board at Times of Zambia from 2015 to 2017. however, a new board was appointed in January 2018 and is currently studying the matter in terms of revamping the Times of Zambia,” Siliya said in response to a written question from Luangeni PF member of parliament Charles Zulu.
Zulu rose with a follow up question, demanding to know what the Ministry of Information was doing to recover over K7 million that government departments owed Times of Zambia in unpaid adverts.
In response, Siliya said; “Indeed it’s true that government departments owe the Times of Zambia. The actual figure we have is actually K5.7 million and obviously there are other outstanding debts which arose from terminal benefits following the retrenchment of staff in 2010, which amounts to over K17 million and legal fees of about K6 million. Therefore, Times of Zambia is quite indebted as well as owed. There are discussions going on with the Ministry of Finance as late as last week Friday, on how we can resolve the debt that government owes the Times of Zambia. I am very sure that we will be meeting very soon with the new Minister of Finance to ensure that we have a logical conclusion to the discussions.”
“The problems at Times of Zambia are quite huge and I am not so sure that at this point in time we have to begin by pointing fingers. But at the same time, government is not involved in the daily running of the Times of Zambia. Like I said, there has been no board for quite a number of years. Now that the board has been appointed, we expect them to attend to the issues at Times of Zambia including to issues like when management is found wanting, the board will make the necessary recommendations.”
But Lufuma demanded to know if government had intentions to liquidate Times of Zambia due to the challenges it was facing.
“Honourable minister like you rightly pointed out, there are huge challenges as concerns the running and viability of Times of Zambia. It being a public institution and given that these problems are not new they have been their time immemorial and solutions have been wanting. Are you considering to liquidate this Times of Zambia in order to serve tax payer money?” asked Lufuma.
In response, Siliya said liquidation was an option.
“I am actually impressed that the member of parliament from an opposition party is actually making those suggestions because in the past when government has come up with such a decision or even to find equity in these institutions, the opposition has risen up in arms and accused government of mismanagement. So it is important to note that we are on the same page now and we can all accept that at the end of the day, when institutions especially statutory institutions such as these are performing badly, it is the tax payers that are suffering. I think it’s important to make that point very clear and I am very impressed without question. But like I said, the board has just been appointed and they are studying this matter. As you know, with the coming of IDC, the Times of Zambia shareholding now is by IDC and I am sure that at the appropriate time, both the board and the IDC will make the right decision on the way to go forward. But as far as the government is concerned, we want to do the best for the people of Zambia and and indeed serve tax payers money,” explained Siliya.
“At the moment, Times of Zambia’s circulation is only about seven thousand. At one point it’s circulation was 20,000. if you recall in 2010 there was a coming together of both Printpak and the Times of Zambia. This resulted in ablated workforce, right now at over 284 employees. Going forward, we have to make a decision on whether indeed as the Kabompo MP suggested that it should be liquidation, recaptalisation or that we should look for an equity partner. I think all these choices are on the table. What is important is that we must make the right choice which will have value for money, so that government is not being forced in pumping money which can be used elsewhere for other development in an institution if the business doesn’t work.”
Siliya observed that online media was posing a challenge to traditional media outlets.
“We need to do the proper due diligence and find out what is the best working model. Today traditional papers are facing a lot of competition because traditional media has been destructed by online media and other sources of information in terms of demographic changes and what the young people are doing who are not reading the physical newspapers but are going online. We have to look at the environment in terms of the newspapers and what should be the working business model that should serve Zambia at this point in time,” said Siliya.