Parliamentary recalls endanger corruption probes

March 18, 2021

There are fears that the recent recall of key Public Accounts Committee (PAC) members in parliament could weaken corruption probes that the unit was carrying out.

Brenna Matendere

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) on Wednesday (17 March 2021) recalled Tendai Biti, the vocal PAC chair, and Willias Madzimure, another member of the committee, on the grounds that they had left the political institution to join another one, MDC-A.

Biti was the Harare East member of parliament while Madzimure represented Kambuzuma.

Other recalled lawmakers include Settlement Chikwinya (Mbizo), Regai Tsunga (Mutasa South), Kucaca Phulu (Nkulumane) and Sichelesile Mahlangu (Pumula).

The recalls followed a High Court judgement that gave PDP, now led by Lucia Matibenga, the greenlight to recall legislators who have left the party.

Last year, the courts also authorised a rival MDC faction now led by Douglas Mwonzora to do the same with its own members who had contested and won the 2018 elections on the party ticket but subsequently defected.

Affected opposition factions have accused the ruling Zanu PF government of using the judiciary to weaken their parties.

The PAC had been working to table a report on its findings regarding the alleged unprocedural awarding of a contract to Sakunda Holdings to develop the Dema electricity plant in 2016.

The US$250 million contract was awarded to Sakunda Holdings without going to tender.

Sakunda is led by businessman Kuda Tagwirei, an ally of and advisor to President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

On Monday (15 March 2021) the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) chief executive officer, Sydney Gata, appeared before PAC but failed to answer questions regarding the deal.

It then requested to provide written responses next week.

The committee was also investigating Tagwirei over alleged misappropriation of funds in the command agriculture scheme.

Biti was on record in 2019 accusing Sakunda of misappropriating more than US$3 billion in public funds under the scheme that the government purports to be helping boost agricultural production.

The Office of the Auditor General (OAG) condemned the scheme for lack of transparency and possible corruption.

Investigations commissioned by Information for Development Trust (IDT) in 2019 revealed that a clique of businessmen inflated prices and manipulated tenders, pocketing some US$18 million in 2018 alone.

The PAC was also investigating the illegal purchase and allocation of land in urban areas.

A 2019 land commission report overview revealed that more than US3 billion was lost through the illegal sale of urban land by barons, Zanu PF politicians, dodgy housing cooperatives and land developers.

While several top officials in local authorities have been arrested in recent months, the full report is still kept under wraps by the government, amid speculation that it could open a can of worms.

Speaking after the recalls, Biti said they were being targeted so as to thwart the investigations.

“We have those reports ready, so my recall is to make sure that issues to do with corruption are not brought before parliament,” said Biti.

However, Kennedy Chokuda, the clerk of parliament, told Grazers News that the investigations would not die out.

“The cases or issues the committee was pursuing will not fall away because one or so members of such a committee was recalled. That is why it is called a committee. It is made up of several people and the issues it handles are of a committee as a whole, not a single person,” he said.

Asked to explain how parliament would fill the vacancies in PAC and the other committees affected by the recalls, Chokuda said: “The party (PDP) which had seconded its members to the committees will be required to provide replacements of those recalled. This is so because the committees must maintain the political and gender composition that has been there.”

In an interview with Grazers News, Matibenga, the PDP leader, said her party would be guided by the law in filling the vacancies.

“The law is clear, there will be by-elections, then we take it up from there,” she said.

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