THE MMD in Luapula’s Chiengi constituency has started conducting interviews for parliamentary applicants after President Rupiah Banda’s government’s recent assurance to free Katele Kalumba from his corruption cases before the courts of law.
Well-placed MMD sources disclosed yesterday that the action follows State House’s promise that Kalumba’s corruption cases would be given the due attention before the general elections are held this year.
The sources said there had been talks between State House and senior people from Chiengi, who included chief Puta of the Bwile people and MMD officials that the government had heard their demands to free their area member of parliament Kalumba from his cases.
The sources said initial discussions were held in Lusaka during the period the nation was mourning late former president Frederick Chiluba. The discussions are expected to be finalised by a meeting involving tourism minister Catherine Namugala, finance minister Situmbeko Musokotwane, mines minister Maxwell Mwale and traditional and MMD leaders in Chiengi.
Namugala, Dr Musokotwane and Mwale are expected in Chiengi during their current tour of Luapula Province to assess the adoption process made by the MMD structures in the province.
“In fact, instructions have been issued to all the party structures in Chiengi to re-start the adoption process following the outcome of the meeting between State House and emissaries from Chiengi,” the source said. “Chief Puta himself is not opposed to the re-starting of the interviews.
It is not by mistake that you saw Ronnie Shikapwasha officiating at the recent fundraising dinner dance for the Ubwilile traditional ceremony just a day after Chiluba’s burial.
“When did you ever see government become so interested in the organisation of the Ubwilile traditional ceremony? And during that same dinner dance, Shikapwasha promised that there was going to be development taken to Chiengi.
It is interesting that there is sudden interest to develop Chiengi. If you noticed, the government officials and chief Puta looked very relaxed and jovial during that dinner dance.
In short, it was just a celebration to consummate what had been agreed upon concerning Katele Kalumba’s issues or cases.”
The source said State House was desperate to make up with Kalumba because of the possible damage the strained relations could have, not only in Chiengi but Luapula Province as a whole.
The sources said leaders from Chiengi had placed a demand that they wanted to see progress in the Kalumba case before the general elections were held.
“At least when we had president Chiluba, we anticipated that there would be problems in Chiengi but not in Luapula as a whole.
Without him now, we feel Katele has remained a major force in the area and we could jeopardise our chances if we antagonise him more,” the source said. “We are worried at the rapid defections of strong people in areas we consider as our own strongholds… the likes of Sylvia Masebo in Chongwe and others.”
And when contacted for comment yesterday, MMD Chiengi district chairperson Thomas Kazembe, who recently announced the suspension of interviews for people wishing to contest the position member of parliament and councillors until Kalumba was freed, announced the party’s U-turn on the matter.
“We are now back to normal. We are now accepting candidates,” he said. “In fact, we have invited them, they are coming. So far we have two who have applied but I have heard there will be five. Cosmos Mpampi and Stanslous Kaunda are the ones who have applied.”
Asked why they had U-turned on their position, Kazembe said Kalumba was retiring from his parliamentary position but not from politics.
Asked further on why they had U-turned since Kalumba had not yet been ‘freed’ from his cases, Kazembe responded: “No, the issue has been resolved. That is our internal issue. It has been resolved internally.”
Last month, MMD structures in Chiengi resolved to suspend interviews for those who had applied to be adopted as councillors and members of parliament until Kalumba is freed from his corruption cases.
The MMD in Chiengi also said President Banda promised chief Puta that he would free Kalumba from his cases. Chiengi MMD Constituency chairman Emmanuel Muweleni said President Banda openly promised chief Puta that he would free Kalumba.
The Lusaka High Court last week set July 29, 2011 for the appeal hearing in a case where Kalumba and six others were jailed five years for corrupt practices by the Lusaka magistrate’s court.
According to the notice of hearing, the six appellants are former finance permanent secretary Stella Chibanda, former directors of the defunct Access Financial Services Limited AFSL Faustin Kabwe and Aaron Chungu, former Ministry of Finance chief economists Bede Mpande, former finance ministry director of budget Boniface Nonde, former secretary to the treasury Professor Benjamin Mweene and Kalumba.
The case will be heard before a panel of three judges who include Jane Kabuka, Dr Patrick Matibini and Nigel Mutuna.
Kalumba and others were convicted on 23 charges on overpayments made to two US companies, Wilbain Incorporated and System Innovations, totaling US $20 million.
On May 26, 2010, then Lusaka High Court Deputy Director of Operations Edward Musona who sat as a magistrate, handed Chibanda five years simple imprisonment while Kabwe, Chungu and Kalumba were slapped with five years imprisonment with hard labour for corrupt charges related to overpayments to Wilbain Incorporated and System Innovations, which were engaged to carry out security contracts on various government installations, including State House.