Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Take A Bow, Zambian Music Awards

After the traumatic experiences of the Born and Bred Awards, every other award show is now watched with baited breathes as we wait to cringe from the mistakes and the flops, the errors and the amateurism. There was not a single award show in the length and breadth of Zambia that I could proudly boast of. Therefore, like many others I too was praying with the Zambian Music Awards (ZMAs) sponsored by Zambian Breweries, would not join the long list of award shows that leave indelible unwelcome images in our minds. The ZMAs did dish up a feast and a post-mortem is in order.

These awards were held at the Government Complex on 22 February 2013, from the looks of things the venue has become the default hosting venue for just about every big event in this country. I must be the first to commend the stage setup, with the multiple background screens which were used to great effect to make the stage smaller than it actually is. Honestly, I think that stage is too large and if there is not much activity going on the stage it can look like a very lonely place. The lighting of the stage was also brilliant knowing when to accentuate it on the stage and when to pull it back. There was none of that haphazard flickering of the lights at will because someone has been accorded unmonitored responsibility with the switch.

The stage management was also well coordinated and it almost looked flawless. Part of this flawlessness can of course be attributed to the fact that what we were viewing was a well edited version of the show. Chishala Chitoshi Jr. as a host carried the night well without being too much of a distraction. The presenters came on stage presented the awards and vacated the stage, leaving way for the programme to move on. I cannot help but mention that the idea to have the presenter’s speeches written out for them was a rather fantastic idea. The Lord only knows what would have come out of their mouths had they been given the liberty to say whatever popped up in their mind. The winners of the awards must have been given some warning not to go up on stage with the entire battalion of their friends seeking their 15 seconds of screen time. Their speeches were brief and nice. I just have to make mention Slap Dee’s speech where he acknowledged that one of the speeches he had made at some other awards show, we chose to forget caused some controversy (with Macky 2) and he would not make a repeat of the same. It was a good touch of maturity, though this entire lovey dovey makes hip hop boring. The fans live for the controversy, the drama, the fights, the name calling, the larger than life antics not hugs and kisses leave that game to the R & B fellows.

The Zambian Music Awards were definitely miles better than the rubbish we had become accustomed to watching. They can proudly lay claim to the title of having the best awards in the country thus far. However, I would caution them not to rest on their laurels; there were some glitches that my critical eye noticed. The performances were really nothing to write home about. None of the performances were wow or sounded great either. I think the most disappointing part was the live band, the performances of Danny and Exile which were accompanied by the live band miserably failed to do justice to the recorded versions. Personally I do not think the acoustics at Government Complex are well suited for live performances. The artist’s performances sounded like someone was singing in a big paint tin. The performances too were not as diverse as I would have liked them to be. You had B-flow, Slap Dee, Ruff Kid, Judy, Kay Figo, Macky 2, all performing Fruity Loops and Cubase produced kind of music, the exception was Amayenge. It would have been nice to have included performances from artists like Scarlet, Uncle Rex, or Matthew Tembo.

Then I would like the organisers to explain why the Gospel category was awarded before the main show. May we be allowed to conclude that the Gospel categories are an inconvenience category that they do not deserve to be awarded on the same night as the rest of the awards? Gospel music is one of the biggest selling music in this country, I wonder why it was sidelined and put on the periphery. I can probably understand awarding the instrumentalists earlier but the Gospel category award I have trouble with. Then of course, perhaps it had something to do with the awards being sponsored by a brewery.

The next is no shortcoming on the part of the organisers but the artists themselves. It would be enjoyable to see videos instead of photographs of the artists as they were announced as nominees. Therefore, artists besides focussing on releasing incredible music should also be seeking to have music videos. They must be outstanding definitely or else we are just fine with seeing portraits for the time being.

There is one thing that I need to address; a lot of folks have been complaining that there was favouritism in the awards given out. This is stemming from the fact that Slap Dee walked away with five awards while Macky 2 only walked away with one despite being nominated in most of the categories. Well clearly there was favouritism, he was a fan favourite. Fans voted for Slap Dee more than Macky 2 plain and simple. These are awards are based on popularity unlike the Grammy’s in the United States of America who have music experts deciding who walks away with the award. So if people are so depressed about who did win, next time vote more.

The Zambian Music Awards showed that we do have the potential to host a great awards show. This is because the right people were behind the organisation and not where others pretend to have the skills and yet they clearly do not. Of course the Zambian Music Awards had the financial muscle to put up such a show, and I doubt any would be sponsor would be hesitant to jump on board such a good production next year. All it takes is to be professional. This should not be ceiling, only the foundations for greater things to come. Yes, take a bow Zambian Music Awards, you deserve it.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Zambia Sugar's Bitter Predicament

It is never fun to watch or read about how Zambia’s investment decisions are not benefitting as many people as they should be. First we had the BBC release a documentary on Mopani Copper Mines and how it is avoiding paying taxes to the government. While we were still recovering from this revelation Action Aid goes ahead and releases a report called ‘Sweet Nothings’ about how Zambia Sugar has successfully and lawfully managed to pay as little tax as they can. Action Aid’s investigative report has made Zambia Sugar’s public relations department go into overdrive as they attempt to salvage their image in the public’s eyes.

So who are Action Aid in the first place and why should we care about their report? Well in their own words, “We’re an international organisation, working with over 15 million people in 45 countries for a world free from poverty and injustice.”  This makes them a pretty credible organisation that has done their homework and has put their organisations name on the line by boldly releasing the report. In the other corner is Zambia Sugar which is owned by Illovo Sugar Ltd in South Africa who the report has been written about. If you have been reading the daily newspapers in the past week you would have noticed the full spread adverts from Zambia Sugar highlighting its social corporate responsibilities activities and press statements all in attempts to counteract the report.

According to the Sweet Nothings report Action Aid are claiming that Zambia Sugar which generated about KR 550 million are virtually paying no tax in Zambia only about 0.5% of that profit is paid in tax. This translates to KR275, 000. The report does admit that Zambia Sugar are doing nothing illegal, Zambia Sugar are playing within the law and are milking it for all its worth. This is where Action Aid has an issue with Zambia Sugar, raising an ethical question more than accusing them of Tax Evasion.

The manner in which Zambia Sugar are avoiding tax is a complex web that is rather complicated to understand. I will try my best to explain it the way I understood it from the report and based on my text book accounting knowledge. Zambia raises revenue (money) for civil servants salaries, building roads, schools, putting medicines in hospitals from taxes. There are various taxes in Zambia and one of these is corporate tax which Zambia Sugar is supposed to pay. The taxes are paid on profits made during the financial year, now this is where it gets interesting. Profit is arrived at by the income less expenses, the net effect of this is what gets taxed.

The report suggests that Zambia Sugar deliberately inflates its expenses in order to reduce its taxable profits. It does so by charging high management fees (for specialists, consultants, engineers etc) from Ireland who work at Zambia Sugar. Under our tax regime, management fees are supposed to be taxed at 15% with what is known as withholding tax. However, Zambia and Ireland have some kind of tax treaty signed some four decades ago that states that no withholding tax is to be charged on income earned from either country. My reader this is the first way in which Zambia loses out on the tax in what is popularly known as transfer pricing. There are more intricacies such as Zambia Sugar moving profits from Zambia to Ireland, to Netherlands and then Mauritius taking advantage of the tax havens. In order for Zambia to attract investors it provides tax holidays in the form of capital allowances. This is to allow companies to get back their investment on things like equipment, building facilities costs; until they recover they are excused from taxes. Zambia Sugar undertook an expansion project in 2007 hence qualifying for the capital allowances. This meant Zambia Sugar was also not paying taxes. The issue that the report raises is that corporate tax in Zambia is 35%. However, Zambia Sugar classifies itself as a farming operation and according to our tax laws were paying only 15%. Recently, this tax has been reduced further to 10% meaning lower taxes.

Sweet Nothings states that these are taxes if paid would improve the livelihoods of many Zambians, such as pay for the education of 180, 000 pupils. The report goes further to state that Zambia Sugar has not done that much for Mazabuka the community in which it operates in relation to the profits it is making. They are of the strong view that it is ethically wrong for Zambia Sugar to avoid paying taxes and it should own up and start contributing more to the revenue coffers. They make a pretty strong argument for this.

After the report came out, Action Aid is calling for a campaign to bring attention to this issue. Facebook was also abuzz with people advocating the boycott of Zambia Sugar and settle for options such as Kafue Sugar and Kasama Sugar.  Words such as being, ‘Ripped off’, ‘Useless Investors’, ‘Cheating Us of Our Resources’ were being tossed around. I too was initially furious and livid until I read the report. It was a really painful read and I became even more livid and upset not at Zambia Sugar but at our very own weak and inadequate laws.

Zambia Sugar did not create the laws, they found them and they have found a way to work within them. We cannot blame Zambia Sugar if our tax laws allow it to pay lesser tax. Let us not forget that they are in business and are not a charity organisation. Their main aim is to make profits and not to make the community happy by building roads and schools that is not their responsibility, it's governments. It is like if Game has their products on sale, would you go there and say give me the original price before the sale because I know you have employees and you need to pay them. Only an insane person would do that, they put their products on sale so you will buy them at that price. They are the ones who made the terms and conditions and you accepted. This is simply what Zambia Sugar is doing period.

We should be marching, protesting and throwing tantrums for our tax laws to be changed. We should not deceive ourselves that Zambia Sugar are the only company taking advantage of the tax loopholes, many companies are doing it in this country. But how many reports are we going to write exposing issues that we already know need to be fixed. We need to ask how we can fix the situation because we know it is broken. In order to mend it we need help. From the report I read, I do not think that Zambia has the capacity to have done such an in depth investigative report.  I would rather we pay Action Aid the millions to expose such irregularities instead of wasting it on bye-elections that are meant to benefit a few. May the so-called intellectuals and think tanks of this country please start screaming on top of their voices so that they may be heard. This is one protest I would gladly join. Vala jombo monko.

The only way I see Action Aid and Zambia Sugar putting an end to this war that is happening in the papers is to have a panel discussion and talk it through and then let us be the judges. This is a debate which borders on an ethically right issue versus a profit maximisation issue. Until that day, all we can do is take sides and hope that this report will not be shelved after a few weeks and we will go back to talking about Chipolopolo and Lionel Messi. As to whether the next time I go do my grocery shopping I will be picking up Zambia Sugar or Kafue Sugar only time will tell.

Please read the report ‘Sweet Nothings’ by Action Aid and make your own conclusion.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The Hell Run Is Back

Accident scene
Some people have said that the truck should not have moved off the road and the truck should have hit into the Landcruiser. For others, the truck driver should have swerved the other direction and not the direction of the bus. The old man is purely to blame for the accident. Then there are those who are blaming the road and advocating that it should be turned into a dual carriageway. I personally agree with the transformation of the road into a dual carriageway. The Great North Road probably claims more lives than any other road in the country. Once upon a time it was popularly known as the ‘Hell Run’. The Hell Run was the infamous stretch between Kapiri Mposhi and Tunduma in Tanzania. It cannot be disputed that this road holds great importance to our nation, and it is still a mystery how it has remained the same for decades despite the level of traffic on it.
Great North Road
It really did not have to take 51 people to die for the bulb to light up in someone’s brain that the road needs to be expanded. The President does not need to make a pronouncement before our roads can be made safer. This is simply being reactive and not proactive. Is it that difficult for people with the authority and responsibility to do what they should be doing? The Great North Road is not the only road that needs attention but I can bet you it will only grab attention when mass people die on it. I can only pray that the ambitious Link Zambia 8000 road project will be fulfilled. This country is in desperate need of a major road overhaul and let us hope that it will not only remain a wish.

I do admit that the road cannot be blamed entirely in the tragic accident; there are a number of factors that led to it. Even though we may ask many questions some of the answers we may never get, the Great North Road cannot be removed from the equation. It has now become a matter of urgency that issue of expanding the road is addressed. The President declared three days of national mourning, when that is done may we please do something to make our roads safer.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Friday Post Our Guilty Pleasure

Forget about the front-page headlines or the sport players who grace the back-pages of The Post Newspaper. The Friday Post has become notorious not for its informative news that makes up the paper rather it is the pictures that grab the attention. These are not your ordinary pictures of two businessmen shaking hands or cadres raising their fists in the air that is child’s play. The Friday Post pictures are the kind that makes parents hide the paper from their children, people do not spend too long staring at when people are around, the moral compass of society loathes and make me wonder what the photographer was thinking to get such photographs.

It is very clear that The Post newspapers are on an agenda, when it comes to Friday Post popularly known as the Weekend Post, this is to sell the paper. I can bet my finger that the edition must rank among the highest of all the days of the week. The pictures are clearly taken for the shock factor and shock us they do. It usually involves some scantily dressed drunk woman exposing her underwear, dancing queens climbing on poles, or a couple holding each other as if they are in their bedroom. It just depends on the mood of the photographer. These pictures have led to a public outcry from some sections of society. They have accused The Post of corrupting morals and publishing according to them ‘Pornography’ in a wide spread daily newspaper.

The more people complain about the Weekend Post issue, it appears the more explicit the pictures get. I think it may only be a matter of time before we see a naked person one of these days. The reasons I have heard as to why The Post should be banned from publishing these pictures are that children read the paper, this is a Christian nation and it reflects badly on us or it is demeaning to women who are mostly exposed in these pictures. These are fair enough reasons why The Post should tone down in future issues, as to whether they are strong enough reasons I’m on the fence on this one.

Why should The Post change a winning formula? There are certain Fridays when the paper can hardly be found on the streets of Lusaka because it is sold out. SOLD OUT! The Post are a profit making business and they will do what they have to do to make money. No wonder the photographer will go to whatever length to get that prized picture. Eish some of the angles the chap gets make me wonder, how on earth did he get that shot? It leaves you to thinking what the instructions are when they go out.
In Zambia, we do a lot of talking and less action. I have seen people complain bitterly about these pictures while they have the page wide open. If people really wanted to send a strong message to the editors of the Weekend Post, they would just stop buying the paper on that day. They could opt to buy Daily Mail or Times of Zambia. If parents are afraid that the pictures are too obscene for their children don’t go home with the paper. If people do not like the pictures do not make them the topic of discussion in the offices. As to whether it is professionally right, that is not my arena to dwell in. I will leave it to my journalist friends to answer it.

Do you think the Weekend Post has gone too far?