* Any future requests made to the Authority should cite the legal basis under which such request is being made or risk not being entertained
* MBC account in MACRA’s books is reflecting a negative balance of K111,672.22 indicating overpayment by MBC to MACRA
* MACRA does not have a licensee answering to the name, ‘Malawi Broadcasting Cooperation’
By Duncan Mlanjira
Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) has challenged law firm Adrian & Company that its demand for the regulator to declare the status of Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) on its compliance to payment of license fees, lacks legal basis.
On August 25, 2022, Adrian & Company wrote to MACRA — on behalf of Forum for National Development (FND) — alleging that the regulator was shielding state-funded MBC on its compliance to payment of license fees.
This was after the body revoked licenses for Ufulu FM, Ufulu Television, Galaxy FM, Rainbow Television and Angaliba TV and radio, among others, for failure to service their license fees.
In response on Tuesday, August 30, MACRA Director General, Daud Suleman put it on record that the demand letter reached the regulator on Monday August 29, 2022.
Suleman said: “Firstly, though you referred to a non-existing entity (since MACRA does not have a licensee answering to the name, ‘Malawi Broadcasting Cooperation’), it is our considered view that you intended to refer to the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, which is one of the licensees in the MACRA database and the only public broadcaster as designated by the Communications Act.
“Secondly, take note that any future requests made to the Authority should cite the legal basis under which such request is being made or risk not being entertained.
“It is the Authority’s considered view that, unless pursuant to a Court order, a request for information from a State entity such as MACRA, is supposed to be premised on section 37 of the Republican Constitution as read with section 18 of the Access to Information Act.
“Thirdly, the aforesaid legal framework envisages that the applicant for access to information ought to specify the right that he or she is intending to exercise using the requested information.”
“However, in the spirit of the same Constitution, particularly section 12(iii), which entrenches the good governance principles of transparency and accountability and, in order to satisfy the public interest that the issue has provoked, I hereby furnish you with the information sought as attached for your reference and information.”
Suleman thus told Adrian & Company that as of Tuesday, August 30, MBC account in MACRA’s books “is reflecting a negative balance of K111,672.22 indicating overpayment by MBC to MACRA”, and further advised the law firm to freely contact MACRA’s accounts department for any further clarification.
As MACRA continues to enforce the law when it acted on non-compliant broadcasters last week, the public supported the initiative with one force social and political ills commentator, Prof. Betchani Tchereni, hinting that MACRA’s stance should be emulated by other government departments such as Electricity Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM), Energy Generation Company (EGENCO), the Reserve Bank of Malawi, Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA), public universities, “and everyone”.
“It is when these institutions fail to execute their mandates by the rule book that our economy fails,” Tchereni had said. “Media institutions must pay.
“As much as I am worried that people may lose jobs and there might be skewness of news analysis, it is very unheard of for us to be supporting lawlessness. MACRA must be commended for fulfilling its mandate — laws are laws.”
In the past few months, MACRA has been applying its mandates in the communications sector and emphasized that there there is no clandestine motive behind their stance but only acting upon powers vested in the Communications Act.
In his response to Tchereni’s views, Chawezi Banda said past government administrations were too lenient in applying the law, adding that as the current leadership is doing what is right, others think it’s witch-hunting.
“If the City Councils close shops such as a liquor shop for not paying for their licence, why should media houses be spared?” he had said. “aMalawi tinapusa kwambiri (we Malawians sleep on the job too much”).
Stanley Mhango said: “Laws are laws when they are applied equally without taking sides”, to which Jimmy Thembazako responded: “Rule of Law. I was impressed how they handled the Minister’s courier service.”
Thembazako was referring to Minister of Minister of Trade, Mark Katsonga Phiri’s AMPEX Courier Ltd which was sealed off in July and its division manager and an accountant arrested for illegal courier operations.
A statement from MACRA had indicated that its 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.
The company was advised not to operate courier services until they obtain a valid courier licence but AMPEX was still operating courier services, which is illegal under sections 31 and 122 of the Communications Act Cap 68:01 of the Laws of Malawi.
MACRA keeps reiterating that operating any communications or courier services business without a valid licence issued by MACRA is illegal and the regulator shall not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against any perpetrators found engaging in such illegal acts.
Angella Kachelenga also agreed with Tchereni’s views, saying as a country, “we should not tolerate mediocrity”, while Lucas Nkhoma said “MACRA is doing a commendable job. There’s lawlessness in Malawi. These media houses make a lot of money. They must pay — they’re in business.”
Lucius Chigoga hinted that “if what MACRA is doing was done in Zambia, it would have been good breaking news in Malawi — we hate ourselves big time”.
Chigoga was referring to recent social media posts of positive news coming from Zambia under the leadership of President Hakainde Hichilema, who is the seventh president and since his election in August last year, he has made a number of positive economic strides of his country.
MACRA Director General, Daud Suleman keeps reiterating that the affected broadcasters are free to apply, in future, for a content licence if they have no outstanding issues with the regulator.