Parly caves to MDC demands

chombo_ignatius... Chombos riches to be debated
HARARE -- Zimbabwe's Parliament has finally caved in to MDC demands and agreed to allow a parliamentary discussion into how Local Government, Rural and Urban Development minister Ignatius Chombo (pictured) has amassed so much wealth on a minister's meagre sa

Furious Zanu (PF) MPs attempted to scuttle the probe saying the case was “politically motivated”. The MDC said it would end a filibuster that had paralyzed MDC Councils and threatened to scuttle council business and the dismissal of more MDC councillors.

Clerk of Parliament Austin Zvoma had resisted the call for a parliamentary investigation for months, saying the Parliaments oversight function is mainly concerned with the utilisation of public funds and not personal funds. He suggested Parliament could not afford to waste another session of parliament to opposition protests.

In exercising this function, usually Parliament does not proceed on the basis of allegations either in the press or courts but on empirical evidence,” Zvoma said.

Shocking inventory

The Zimbabwean last year investigated and unearthed a shocking inventory of the minister’s unexplained wealth while serving in government. Our award-winning investigation revealed that Chombo amassed wealth which was manifestly disproportionate to his lawful income. Zvoma tried to pass the buck to the omptroller and Auditor-General who he claimed exclusively audits all government ministries in terms of part eight of the Public Finance Management Act. He claimed our report was “not backed by empirical evidence.”

He said if there was any any wrongdoing on the part of the minister, law enforcement agents would have taken action and “the law takes its course.” The police have been completely disinterested in probing Chombo, the President’s blue eyed home boy.

“Therefore, due to the aforesaid, we are unable to accede to the request,” Zvoma said in January.

However, this week Zengesa East MDC MP Alexio Musundire managed to finally get Parliament to agree to debate, not explicitly on Chombo’s wealth, but on amendments to the Urban Councils Act and the Rural District Councils Act. Musundire said the minister was using the two Acts to cause unwarranted interference and micro-management of local authorities. Chombo’s meddling had encouraged widespread looting and asset stripping of council resources such as land and property, he said.

He said the Cabinet minister might have acquired wealth illegally.

Chombo is the most senior government official to be investigated since formation of the GNU two years ago. The lawmakers present at the afternoon sessions of the 210-seat chamber were sharply divided over the debate.

Abuse of position

Musundire said Chombo had abused his position.

“Mr. Speaker, you may note that the ministry is headed by an honourable member who is well schooled with a PhD,” Musundire said. “However, he has become the symbol of corruption himself. The level of corruption within the local government depends on two variables: the discretion enjoyed by the minister and the accountability of officials. The corruption is directly proportional to the degree of discretion accorded by the Act to the minister.

“Mr. Speaker, you may want to know that the Urban Councils Act has been in operation even before the current minister became minister of Local Government. However, we had quite noble persons that were heading that ministry and we had no cases of corruption,” Musundire said.

In the running session this week, MDC lawmakers forced parliament to adjourn every day by running onto the floor, chanting anti-Zanu (PF) tirades and demanding a parliamentary committee be formed to investigate the scandal.

Zanu (PF) has staunchly resisted, saying the MDC was angry at Chombo’s crusade against corrupt MDC councillors who have been sacked by the minister.

Chombo has so far suspended a total of four MDC councillors in Harare; five in Rusape; one in Nyaminyami Rural District Council; two in Zvimba Rural District Council; and recently two in Harare Municipality Councillors Warship Dumba and Casper Takura who had opened a council probe on the minister and exposed his corrupt activities.

Backing the motion, MDC chief whip Innocent Gonese said the Urban Councils Act has a staggering 406 references to the minister while the Rural District Councils Act mention the minister 329 times.

“The problem is that these particular pieces of legislation give immense powers to the minister of Local Government,” Gonese said.

Zanu hypocrisy

Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, Mwenezi East Zanu (PF) MP, who is also a member of the African Parliament Against Corruption, said Chombo must actually be applauded for firing corrupt MDC councillors:

“The motion seeks to condemn corruption and those who practice it. The minister is at the fore front of weeding out corrupt councillors and enforcing the Urban Councils Act to bring sanity to the local authorities and the hon. member is worried about that.

“They are calling the House to condemn the minister. I think it is a misguided motion or argument on which we should say the House should be called to applaud and give the credit to the minister for trying to reduce the level of corruption within the urban councils,” Bhasikiti said.

The controversial Zanu (PF) legislator said out of the 210 Members of Parliament, only 25 members declared their assets “and he is not on the list of those who declared.”

“So I just want to urge the hon. member that as he moves the motion, he should come out and declare what he has rather than narrating what other members have,” Bhasikiti added.

MDC Magwegwe MP Felix Sibanda insisted Chombo be probed to establish how he had amassed so much wealth on a meagre ministerial salary in less than 15 years. Sibanda claimed Chombo had more wealth than business tycoon Tiny Rowland.

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