The Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) recently announced that the Times of Zambia board has been dissolved and management disbanded. According to the announcement, the Zambia Daily Mail Board and management has now taken over the operations of the state owned and Zambia’s oldest newspaper. This development has left a lot of citizens confused as they are not sure what this means. We have also been left confused but given the information we have gathered around this issue, we can make an educated guess about what will happen to Times of Zambia.
In simple English, IDC has merged Times of Zambia and Zambia Daily Mail, while at the same time maintaining the two as separate entities with competition mandates. Whether or not this is legal under the Companies Act is for experts to say. What we know is that Times of Zambia currently does not have a board, and its budget and financials will be approved by employees of another company.
These employees of Zambia Daily Mail are now expected to keep proper records of all the resources, assets and transactions of the Times of Zambia and be ready to account should there be reports of financial irregularities, abuse of office or mismanagement of assets. From what we hear, the top management of Zambia Daily Mail has agreed to take up this extra mandate.
Of course the bosses at Daily Mail might feel excited for their CVs that for the first time in history, they were allowed to run two state newspapers – heaven knows if they appreciate the implications of what they have agreed to. We can only hope that they remember what happened to their colleague Davies Mataka and how he was disowned by his appointing authorities at Zambia Daily Mail when the court demanded an exculpation in the printing of a political publication linked to late Chanda Chimba III.
From our understanding of good corporate governance, we do not think it is tenable to get an MD from another company to come and superintend over the financial affairs of another company, especially one which has a competing mandate. But anyway, that is a baby for the CEO of Zambia Daily Mail and his fellow bosses to nurse, as they enjoy the extra perks from the extra mandate of running Times of Zambia.
Away from that, our concern is what the IDC is doing to the newspaper and their method of revamping it. We have noticed that in an effort to pull Times of Zambia out of the dungeon of debt, the parent company has resolved to inject capital by raising a commercial loan for the newspaper and collateralising its assets. We understand part of the money that has come from IDC has gone to pay off workers’ salary arrears and benefits for those who have been laid off. This is fine because our colleagues at Times of Zambia have suffered for a long time while their plight was neglected by their employers.
But our fear is that whatever loans Times of Zambia gets will have to be paid with interest. Now looking at the bombasa style of management that the IDC has put in place at the institution, we don’t see how the newspaper will be turned around to become viable again. In fact, we wonder if the idea was really to make Times of Zambia profitable again. We believe that if IDC wanted to make the newspaper viable, they would have injected money in form of interest-free shareholders’ loans, since they know very well that Times of Zambia has got huge debts and cannot manage to settle commercial loans.
If the IDC gives Times of Zambia a commercial loan and collateralises its assets, then we can as well guess what will happen to those assets in the foreseeable event that the newspaper fails to pay back. And this is where our concern lies because asset-stripping is not what the IDC was created for.
The Times of Zambia sits on a lot of prime land and strategically located, which the politicians and their associates are interested in. If the IDC was clean on restructuring the company, they would have been recapitalising the newspaper using the same money they have been using to buy loss-making private companies. But this is not what we are seeing.
Instead, we are seeing manoeuvres to overburden and cripple the Zambia Daily, which is the only hope of a viable State owned newspaper company. This case of merging the Times of Zambia and Zambia Daily Mail must be handled with the transparency it deserves.
When the Zambia Daily Mail board chairman and the CEO travel to Zimbabwe, Zambians must be told the truth about what investment they are seeking there. Citizens who own these state newspapers must be informed about what business opportunities they are chasing in Zimbabwe. People should not just wake up to hear that Times of Zambia land has been sold or that the Zambia Daily Mail has been privatised.
This scenario at Times of Zambia is what happened to Mulungushi Textiles in Kabwe. The rest of the land where Mulungushi Textiles sits was sold to a friendly investor who has put up a shopping mall along the Great North Road. From what we gather, the land was sold for a song and up to now, some ex-Mulungushi Textiles workers have not yet been paid their benefits.
There has been a systematic identification of assets of parastatals which are under IDC and some greedy eyes are interested in possessing these assets. If they don’t want the assets, then they want to use the parastatals under IDC to serve their private interests. This must be stopped!