Zambian minister dismissed for corruption

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has fired his minister of Lands, Rev. Gladys Nyirongo, for corruption while she was busy preaching anti-corruption messages at a anti-corruption forum in South Africa. President Mwanawasa has declared a total war on corruption and has said he would not hesitate to dismiss anyone engaging in corrupt practices.

Nyirongo is accused of allocating several pieces of lands to herself, husband, children and a huge piece of land to a Chinese investor without following the law and consulting the president.

The law enforcing agencies including Office of the President (OP) officials questioned Nyirongo on March 4, a day after returning from South Africa.

Nyirongo has however, remained tight lipped to provide any information concerning her dismissal claiming she first want to have audience with the president in order to allow justice to prevail over the matter.

“I have no comment and nothing to say until I meet the president to give him my side of the story so that justice can prevail,” said Nyirongo .

Her dismissal came hot on the heels of an article published in a local paper reporting that Reverend Nyirongo had written to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to demand that they investigate Sichone and the property he allegedly owned.

Mwanawasa has not said whether he was willing to accept audience with Nyirongo. Nyirongo however, said despite her dismissal, she will continue being obedient to the Mwanawasa.

Nyirongo becomes the first Minister to be caught up in Mwanawasa anti-corruption drive since the president assumed office almost six years ago.

Mwanawasa has also suspended the Commissioner of Lands, Fightone Sichone, to pave the way for investigations into corruption in the ministry. The ministry of

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Lands remains cordoned by police and OP officials to avoid those documents to be used in court as evidence may disappear.

“The Ministry of Land is the most corrupt ministry and I want Nyirongo to be investigated. I have dismissed her because she allocated land to herself, husband and children. She has also gave out 20, 000 hectares piece of land in Mpika to an investor, which I instructed her not to give out,” said Mwanawasa.

He said the policy was that any allocation of land beyond 1,000 acres must be done with his approval.

“I was reluctant to believe the charges because I thought it was just another plot by the male folk to frustrate Rev. Nyirongo out of her job but after I heard the report made by the President I thought, well, maybe there is something here,” said Charity Munalula, a Lusaka resident.

Brigadier-General Godfrey Miyanda, a former republican vice-president who now heads the opposition Heritage Party from where Rev Nyirongo defected to join Mr Mwanawasa’s MMD, was scathing in his comments on the way the president handled the matter, suggesting there was more to it than had been presented to the nation.

Brigadier General Godfrey Miyanda, HP president, said Zambia was in a serious dilemma as corruption levels had reached a stage where no one could be trusted, the President inclusive.

But the action drew accolades from a number of quarters. Global Justice Zambia (GJZ) executive director, John Lungu said the action had won the confidence of Zambians eager to see the fruit of president Mwanawasa’s corruption crusade. “The government should come up with a policy that would make illegal land acquisition transparent and distribution fair to benefit Zambia ‘s citizens,” said Mr Lungu. According to Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) 2006 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) report, the country did not make any progression in fighting corruption.

Zambia was ranked 9th out of 58 categories consisting of 163 countries.”It is good that the President acted quickly and with a sense of urgency over this matter. We hope that this will serve as a deterrence measure to all Zambians especially those that hold public office to avoid abusing their official positions for private gains,” said TIZ executive director Goodwell Lungu. “The onus and challenge is on the Anti-Corruption Commission to be also steadfast in investigating and prosecuting Reverend Nyirongo and the lands minister.”

Lungu urged the president to be more proactive and not reactive to press revelations. United Church of Zambia (UCZ) Copperbelt Presbyterian Bishop Committee Njase said the allegations were an embarrassment to the church in Zambia.”This news has saddened the church in the country. Church leaders are supposed to be a mirror to society.”

The Nyirongo case came just weeks after the president disclosed that an estimated K36 billion (US $8 million) meant for various projects in government ministries had been misappropriated by more than 300 civil servants.

But various stakeholders have in the past expressed concern at the slow pace at which corrupt cases against other senior figures that include former president Fredrick Chiluba were being conducted, Mwanawasa’s war on corruption gained momentum last month when former health minister Kashiwa Bulaya was sentenced to five years in prison on accounts of abuse of office and corrupt practices. Bulaya was found guilty, among other things, of diverting over K3 billion (US $750 000) meant to purchase Anti-Retroviral drugs (ARVs) for government to a company he partly owned.