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MPs rebuff Mugabe
Hama Saburi, Financial Gazette (Zimbabwe)
June 24, 2004

IN what could be a decisive rupture with tradition, ruling ZANU PF legislators sang from the same song sheet with opposition Members of Parliament (MPs), when they united to shoot down the draconian anti-graft laws introduced by President Robert Mugabe in February this year.

In an unprecedented move, the ZANU PF legislators, known to rubber stamp anything, walked out of Parliament on Tuesday, leaving Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) MPs seated in the august House.

The rare show, which was instigated by Gutu South legislator Shuvai Mahofa and got the backing of ZANU PF young turks, namely Mashonaland West chairman Philip Chiyangwa, Victor Chitongo (Murewa North) and Pearson Mbalekwa (Zvishavane), among other legislators, was in protest against the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Bill, which was scheduled to be voted into law on Tuesday.

Leader of the House and Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who presented the Bill, was forced to adjourn Parliament on noting that the ruling party, which always takes advantage of its numerical advantage, did not have the numbers to push it through.

Had the House been divided after the ZANU PF MPs had walked out, MDC MPs could have shot it down, something that would have put spanners in the ruling party's works.

Critics have accused the government of using the anti-graft crusade as a campaign gimmick ahead of the 2005 parliamentary election in which it faces another stiff challenge from the MDC.

The government insists that the crusade will be taken to its full expression and no one will be spared irrespective of status. Critics however remain largely sceptical.

The shooting down of the Bill came shortly before an extraordinary meeting of ZANU PF's supreme decision-making body, the politburo, slated for tomorrow, which will discuss the outcome of investigations into a swathe of party companies.

There are heightened fears in ZANU PF that the Bill could be used not only to punish those who would be found to be on the wrong side of the law but also to settle political scores as the succession race gathers momentum.

The controversial Bill extends the period of pre-trial detention without possibility of bail for certain serious offences such as corruption, money laundering, externalisation of foreign currency and unauthorised disposal and dealing in gold or precious stones from seven to 21 days.

According to the Bill, a judge or magistrate should not decline a police request for further detention of a person accused of corruption. And during that extension, no bail would be allowed for at least seven days.

Under the proposed new law, therefore, an accused person can be detained for up to 30 days if the police insist they want to continue with investigations.

Lawyers have described the sweeping anti-graft regulations as unconstitutional and a violation of basic human rights. President Mugabe, 80, used his constitutional powers to introduce the Bill, which expires after six months unless it is approved into law.

Immediately after its introduction, prominent businessman and ZANU PF central committee member James Makamba became the first victim. Makamba was thrown behind bars in February and is still to taste freedom.

Finance Minister Christopher Kuruneri is another top ZANU PF official still battling to secure his release from police custody after being arrested in April and charged with three counts of externalising foreign currency and two counts of breaching the Citizenship Act.

A ZANU PF caucus convened yesterday morning to discuss the impasse agreed that the Bill was fraught with inconsistencies and problems that could split the ruling party right through the middle.

The caucus agreed to set up a committee to investigate allegations that senior government officials, the police and some officers from the Attorney-General (AG)'s Office had abused the Bill by accepting bribes from business people caught up in the anti-corruption net.

Chinamasa was tasked to immediately amend the Bill to rid it of aspects that have created discord within the ruling party's ranks. An amended Bill will be presented to another ZANU PF caucus on Wednesday at 9:15am and once approved, it would be discussed in Parliament at 2:15pm.

It was also discussed during the meeting that the amended Bill should ensure that the police do not rush to arrest unless it is with the concurrence of the AG's Office.

Whistle blowers who provide information that turns out to be false should be penalised to discourage instances where people blow the whistle for the sake of settling personal scores, it was suggested.

Contacted for comment, ZANU PF chief whip Ray Kaukonde confirmed the walkout by the ruling party legislators on Tuesday, but referred all questions to the leader of the House, Chinamasa.

Chinamasa said the areas of concern to the ZANU PF MPs were being looked into.

"There was no hiccup. We held a caucus meeting today and resolved to further strengthen the Bill. The matter is coming back next week Tuesday. I am going to look into those areas."

Sources said it all started when Mahofa went to Speaker of Parliament Emmerson Mnangagwa's chair and immediately after a tete-a-tete with the party's secretary for administration, Mahofa had discussions with individual MPs.

"Whether it was by coincidence or not, soon after the discussions, ZANU PF MPs started walking out of the House," said one source.

Mahofa queried why no white people and MDC members had been arrested ever since the crackdown on corrupt people started.

Sources said there was an imminent threat of a split within ZANU PF if the issue was not handled properly, with party cadres from the Midlands province feeling they had been treated unfairly by party bigwigs from Mashonaland provinces.

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