15 June 2017

Gambia: Daily Observer Closed

Photo: Media Institute of Southern Africa
Press freedom.

One of the leading newspapers in The Gambia, the Daily Observer, has been ordered by the Gambia Revenue Authority (GRA) to close down for two weeks, The Point has gathered.

A staff of the newspaper who wished not to be named confirmed the closure, saying some GRA officials with personnel of the Gambia Police Force came to the newspaper's office yesterday afternoon and ordered the staff to leave and the company to cease publication.

The Observer staff said the company has 99 employees of which 80 are full time staff and 19 freelancers.

A highly placed source at GRA said the closure, albeit temporarily, was a result of Observer's non-compliance with its tax obligations.

The GRA source said the newspaper owed more than D17 million in accumulated tax arrears as it had not been paying tax for the past several years.

However, The Point has understood that GRA has made an offer to the newspaper that when they pay 30 per cent of the D17 million owed, they will be allowed to continue operations.

The GRA source said the Revenue House would take "the next step" when the two weeks elapsed and the newspaper did not pay anything. The next step, according to our source, is to seek for a court order to forfeit all the assets of the company.

"Leaving Observer to continue operation while it does not comply with its tax obligations is not fair to other newspapers like The Point, The Standard, The Voice and Foroyaa because these papers try as much as possible to pay their dues," the GRA staff said.

Before the closure order, the GRA source said, the management of Observer was invited to several meetings to discuss possible ways to at least make a commitment and work out a plan to pay its tax arrears. That did not work.

The newspaper company was also served with several sermon letters by GRA for them to pay their tax arrears but they did not pay heed.

In addition, the source said, the GRA had tried several times during meetings with the management of Observer to know who is the principal owner of the company but to no avail.

"The GRA will not allow Observer to be operating without paying tax and its ownership also not known," the GRA official said.

"Today, the GRA management had a meeting and it was decided finally that they have to take a step to temporarily close down Observer. They contacted the IGP to give them some police officers to go with them to the newspaper to effect the closure.

"GRA is an independent body that operates with transparency and fairness and the closure of Observer has nothing to do with the government. We don't have the intention to close down any company but all companies must also pay their taxes."


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