MACRA seals off Minister Katsonga’s AMPEX Courier Ltd for illegal courier operations; Its manager and accountant arrested

Minister of Trade Mark Katsonga-Phiri

* On April 14, MACRA Board approved the renewal of AMPEX Domestic Courier Services licence

* Subject to the company settling its outstanding licence fees and levies amounting to K29,579,418 as well as paying US$5,000 renewal fees

* AMPEX was advised not to operate courier services until they obtain a valid courier licence but was still operating courier services contrary to its directive

By Duncan Mlanjira

MACRA has sealed off Minister of Trade, Mark Katsonga Phiri’s AMPED Courier Ltd and arrested its division manager and an accountant for illegal courier operations.

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A statement from Director General, Daud Suleman— dated July 14, 2022 — said at it its 75th meeting held on April 14, the MACRA Board approved the renewal of AMPEX Domestic Courier Services licence subject to the company settling its outstanding licence fees and levies amounting to K29,579,418 as well as paying US$5,000 renewal fees.

“AMPEX was advised not to operate courier services until they obtain a valid courier licence,” said the statement. “MACRA has taken this action after its investigations revealed that AMPEX was still operating courier services contrary to its directive.

MACRA DG Daud Suleman

“MACRA is therefore advising the public that operating a courier or any communications services business without a valid licence issued by MACRA is illegal under sections 31 and 122 of the Communications Act Cap 68:01 of the Laws of Malawi.

“Any person who will be found engaging in such illegal acts commits an offence and MACRA shall not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against any perpetrators.”

In April, MACRA went on a campaign sensitising the general public that they should make sure the buses and other motorists they use as courier to send parcels and packages to various destinations have a certificate of registration from MACRA.

MACRA also had warned bus operators — and other motorists that illegally transport people on long distances — that if found delivering packages and parcels without a licence are liable to a fine of K1 million plus a maximum jail term of two years.

This was done after the regulator discovered that illegal courier services by bus operators and other long distance taxi operators is rampant — thus their decision to warn the public that courier service is very sensitive.

The public is being encouraged to use operators who prove they are licensed by MACRA because if they use illegal means — and their packages and parcels get lost or stolen — they have no means to be compensated.

Last month, MACRA disclosed that some 250 operators in the communication sector are not following their license regulations of honouring their annual license fees and owe the regulator over K9.4 billion.

At a press conference Suleman said there were some license holders — in broadcasting; telecommunication; postal and courier services — who risked having their licences revoked if they did not meet the deadline they gave themselves to pay their arrears.

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Topping the list were players in the telecommunication, who owe MACRA over K8.2 billion with over K800 million by broadcasters and K377 million by the postal and courier service providers.

Suleman had said the debt date back as far back as 10 years go (2012) and dismissed reports coming from the license holders, who insinuate that MACRA is just witch hunting on political grounds.

He emphasized that as a regulator, they are just executing the mandate which the Communications Act and that as provided by the law, they first engage the delinquent lice holders holders, who — upon agreeing to what they owe the regulator — are given a leeway to honour their debts on a maximum period of six months.

As of December, February, March and April, MACRA summoned to hearings some 37 operators and 31 have been heard and are being monitored after pledging to pay within their specified period while one had its licence revoked.

Suleman had also allayed fears that revocation of broadcasting licences might render a lot of people lose their jobs, saying MACRA is just aiming at making the Industry as vibrant as possible so that as they realise good returns, they might employ more experts currently being trained at Malawi Institute of Journalism (MIJ) and at Malawi University of Business & Applied Sciences (MUBAS) — formerly the Polytechnic of Malawi.

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From their survey, Suleman said most of these industry players lack governance expertise, saying honouring legal obligations such as the MACRA license fees is one of them.

“We want the broadcasting industry as vibrant as possible so that when it grows, it should contribute towards economic and social development of the people of Malawi through job creation.”

Meanwhile, Rainbow TV had its broadcasting licence revoked on June 8, 2022 by MACRA for being in substantial breach of its broadcasting obligations by failing to pay to pay annual license fees.

The deadline given to the TV station to honour the payment — which had a grace period of consultation between the two parties — was May 31, 2022 and 14 days after the licence revocation (June 22, 2022), Rainbow paid the sum of K10.348 million through a postdated cheque no 001030, drawn from FDH Bank account no. 1970000030476 due on June 22, 2022.

When MACRA received the payment, the regulator wrote Rainbow TV that: “Regrettably, be advised that any payment outside Board stipulated timelines cannot be accepted without prior approval of the Board.

Prophet Bushiri

“According to the letter dated 20th May 2022 from the Authority, the deadline for your payment was 31st May 2022. Further, be advised that once a licence is revoked as in your case, the only way to have a valid licence is to apply for a new licence,” said the letter from MACRA Director General, Daud Suleman dated June 20, 2022.

The TV station, owned by Prophet Shepherd Bushiri, then applied in the High Court for intervention “under Order 19 rule 20 (3) Coirts (High Court) (Civil Procedure) Rules without notice to the defendant [MACRA] for an order for permission to apply judicial review of the putative defendant’s decision not to decide or communicate its decision to the claimant on the claimant’s application for the renewal of its private broadcasting licence made on the 3rd April, 2022”.

Having reviewed the application and evidence rendered in through Justice M.A. Tembo’s Chambers, the Court observed that Rainbow TV did not disclose that it received the revocation letter on June 8.

“…It is the considered view of this court that the claimant did not intend to disclose, and in fact suppressed, the material fact that its broadcasting licence herein had been revoked by the time the claimant paid the balance of the licence fees due,” said Justice Tembo in his determination dated July 8.

“The claimant then asserted that it paid the balance of the licence fees on 22nd June, 2022 but it is clear that by then the licence of the claimant had been revoked by the defendant for breach of the terms of the licence regarding payment of licence fees.”

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Justice Tembo observed that Rainbow TV’s case “is hopeless and not fit for further investigation at a full hearing” which would have then involved the defendant, MACRA.

“The claimant was in breach of its broadcasting licence by failing to pay licence fees,” said Justice Tembo in his determination, adding that MACRA had engaged Rainbow TV during the period within which the station applied for renewal.

“In such circumstances, the view of this Court is that the claimant could not reasonably expect the defendant to decide and communicate on renewal of the claimants broadcasting licence when the claimant was failing to to honour licence fees obligations on the subsisting broadcasting licence.

“After the revocation, the obligation to communicate the decision on the licence renewal lapsed because there was nothing to be renewed. The claimant cannot therefore legitimately expect the defendant to consider renewal of a license that was revoked.

“That makes the present application inapt [and] in the foregoing premises, this Court is compelled to decline the claimants application for permission to apply for judicial review for being unfit for further consideration at a full hearing for judicial review, as envisaged in the case of Ombudsman v Malawi Broadcasting Corporation [199] MLR 329.”

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