Arrogance and Entitlement – the New Era Case Study [opinion]

NEW ERA, the government-owned and run newspaper this week (once again) devoted a considerable amount of space to attack The Namibian and impugn our standing.

The administrators of that plunderer of taxpayers’ money have once again merely taken readers for granted and demonstrated the arrogance and sense of entitlement, which was the reason we listed them among parastatals into which President Hifikepunye Pohamba and his government should stop channelling State funds.

We mentioned New Era in our editorial last week to urge the President to put his words into action and not to merely complain about parastatals that were gobbling up taxpayers’ money while failing to perform as expected.

New Era is one of those parastatals, but the heads of that organisation saw it fit to mislead the public with their rebuttal of our editorial, which once again demonstrates the arrogance and the sense of entitlement that the President said he has become fed up with.

New Era complained that they were “erroneously thrown into the same basket as other parastatals” that relied on government handouts. They claimed they are not “overly relying on State bailouts”. Preposterously, the newspaper lamented that it “has been receiving less than its fair share from the ministry [of information]” and that “by any stretch of the imagination, N$39 million for three years [from tax coffers] is a modest allocation and one of the lowest…”

It made a bold and shameless statement that “our record is there for all to see”. In fact, the last annual statement they have produced “for all to see” was for the financial year 20045 and nothing for a decade since.

Indeed, one has to go to Parliament and the auditor-general to get reliable insights on how the New Era Publications Corporation [read New Era newspaper] was being managed.

Sadly, the latest auditor-general’s report is of the year-ended March 2011 and yet, it disproves the claim that New Era made this week, that the company was making “most prudent use of” taxpayers’ funds.

“The auditors’ review of the State Finance Act, 1991 (Act 31 of 1991) section 12(1) indicated that New Era Publications Corporation is required to submit annual financial statements within six months after year-end. This compliance requirement has not been met for the financial reporting period ended 31 March 2011 and will also not be met for the financial reporting period ending 31 March 2012,” said the auditor general.

We would not be surprised if the same thing is said in future reports.

Even more damning, and criminal for that matter, New Era has been stealing taxpayers’ money. “During the audit of payroll and related areas it was noted that PAYE (pay as you earn or individual income tax) was deducted from salaried employees. The PAYE deducted was, however, not paid over to Inland Revenue as required by the relevant regulation,” said the State auditors.

The same was said about VAT (value added tax), which government asks businesses to collect from the trade of goods and services.

The result is that by March 2011, according to the auditor-general, New Era failed to pay over to the tax coffers about N$12 million that they collected from their own employees and customers. Add that to the “subsidy” (which is coincidentally N$12m this year), then New Era would have had N$24 million from taxpayers, albeit that half of it was stolen. It’s anyone’s guess what other tax money they might have kept instead of handing it over to the Ministry of Finance.

Our information is that this trend has continued with the amounts having climbed to more than N$30 million and that New Era wants the State to write off the debt.

If New Era does not regard such yearly reliance on taxpayers as a bailout, then they have changed the definition of what constitutes a bailout. If there is no bailout, New Era executives must face the civil and criminal charges that come with stealing public funds.

Instead the company, which according to its mandate, should be “managed according to general business principles”, has been and will continue to get taxpayers’ money and compete with other newspapers that are run on business principles and performing far better in reaching readers across the country.

The point should not be forgotten that New Era fits the bill of what President Pohamba referred to as parastatals that are meant to operate as businesses yet continue to receive money from the State.

We say critical steps must be taken because New Era, TransNamib, Namibia Wildlife Resorts and others in that category do not give Namibians anything different or better than private businesses. In fact, they should do better, not worse, because of the push they get from public funds.

Unless that has changed, they remain a disservice to the public.

Source : The Namibian