Ministry of Information and Communications Infrastructure of The Gambia has stated it is “working towards an amicable resolution of the impasse that would enable the Daily Observer resume operations as soon as possible.”
In a statement issued June 18, the Ministry also indicated “regret” and “concern” upon learning of the “temporary” closure of the Daily Observer newspaper (June 14) by the Gambia Revenue Authority (GRA) due to its non-compliance with its tax obligations.
The GRA says the Daily Observer owes D17 million dalasis ($425,000 dollars) in taxes.
The statement indicates that the closure of the paper, has nothing to do with the paper’s editorial policies but its failure to comply with tax obligations.
“The Ministry has been reliably informed that in the past, the GRA had reached an agreement for a payment plan but the Observer Company had failed to honor its own part of the agreement,” the statement reads.
The Ministry further urged the revenue authority and the Daily Observer to hold talks to “bring an end to the crisis.”
Founded by Kenneth Best, a Liberian national, the Daily Observer is the first daily newspaper in The Gambia. Mr Best was expelled in 1994 by former President Jammeh’s military regime. The paper was bought in 1999 by Gambian businessman Amadou Samba and close friend of former President Jammeh, leading many to believe the paper was owned by Jammeh particularly following the removal of several independent minded editors, journalists over the years including the current minister of Information, Demba A. Jawo who for several years served as the paper’s news editor.
The editorial line of the Daily Observergradually changed towards a pro-President Jammeh editorial leaning. Becoming towards the end of Jammeh’s tenure, the government’s mouthpiece. As such, many believe the move to shut it down is politically motivated.
The Gambia Revenue Authority “temporarily closed” The Daily Observer, on Wednesday, June 14th over tax arrears of D17 million dalasis ($425,000 dollars) in taxes over a 15 year period.
The paper was given two weeks to raise 30% of the sum due. Otherwise, it risks a definitive closure.
According to YankubaDarboe, the general commissioner of the Gambian tax administration, this is the last step after a long process, which has nothing to do with the change of government.
SaikouCeesay, the Secretary General of the Gambia Press Union considers the decision to close the Daily Observer as an impediment to freedom of expression.
“While GRA might have acted within the country’s tax laws, the GPU urges the tax authorities to explore other ways of settling the matter…. The GPU is of the considered view that the closure of the Daily Observer is regrettable and impairs freedom of expression in The Gambia,” Ceesay said.
The secretary general indicated that the union is working to bring the two parties to agree on a “realistic payment plan”. The union appealed to the GRA to allow the “Daily Observer to resumes operations immediately.”
The Union also urged the government to urgently review the “tax the regime imposed on the media in the country” by the regime of former president. Yahya Jammeh who “imposed hefty taxes on newspaper to stifle dissenting views on his government.”
The union said over a hundred (100) peoplelost their jobs.