By Gershom Ndhlovu
Chief Government spokesman Mike Mulongoti did a good job, or at least he thought he did, to explain to the nation why the state halted the case of alleged plunder Democratic Republic of Congo Katanga governor Moses Katumbi.
While Katumbi’s case generated a lot of interest in the past and at least claimed the scalp of one of the most experienced politicians in Zambia, that of former Information Minister Vernon Mwaanga for allegedly mishandling a special presidential assignment on the same matter, it is refusing to be buried.
Mulongoti who, ironically, took over from Mwaanga, in explaining government’s decision only succeeded in muddying the waters even more by revealing that there are no proper records of the transactions involving Katumbi at the Food Reserve Agency (FRA), of all places.
For all intents and purposes, Katumbi must have been a very big FRA client considering that the milling wing of Chani Fisheries bought huge supplies of maize whose mealie meal he sold at lower-than-market prices as an MMD campaign gimmick.
Before anyone asks what happened to Katumbi’s records at FRA, one wonders if this issue does not warrant a major audit at the institution which handles a lot of money buying crops from subsistence, emergent and even commercial farmers.
If documents of one of the biggest clients of a few years ago in the name of Katumbi, never mind his relationship with the former president who is himself facing cases of plunder, can go missing willy-nilly, then, God forbid, what else has gone missing.
Is it a coincidence then that the FRA is itself at the centre of the yet to be resolved, if resolved it will ever be, Carrington maize scandal in which the government paid a lot of money to some international conmen who never delivered even a grain on the nation’s doorstep?
I am not surprised that documents, especially Katumbi’s, can vanish in thin air, or even that record keeping at FRA is poor. It is at the same agency that the employees paid themselves huge amounts in gratuity when it was proposed that the agency would be transformed into a Crop Marketing Authority.
This issue was briefly raised but died a very quiet if wistful death probably to the convenience of some people in authority who could have benefited from the dubious arrangement.
The manner in which Katumbi’s case has been halted stinks, but the administration at FRA is definitely rotten if it does not keep proper records of big clients like Katumbi. Management probably doesn’t even know from whom the agency buys a bag of maize in Vubwi, Kalumwange or Kashinakaji. For all we care, they could be buying some of the maize from ghost farmers!
As the Americans say, the buck stops somewhere. Someone somewhere must know what really transpired in the years leading to 2001. First and foremost, former President Chiluba very much wanted a third term for reasons best known to him. When that failed, he was desperate to have a crony at State House.
At the time, he dumped even people like PF president Michael Sata to whom he is now clinging to for sympathy in preference for Levy Mwanawasa whom he woke up from slumber to take over the presidency. He sure regrets having made that decision seeing that he has spent most of his retirement years in and out of court.
Does the key to political engineering of that time lie at the FRA? Was the FRA another equivalent of the infamous ZAMTROP? Why are the records missing, or put simply, why is record keeping poor at the Agency?
From Mulongoti’s statement on the issue of Katumbi, we probably just saw a very small tip of a very big iceberg lying underneath. Can someone somewhere help in revealing the muck that is being swept under the carpet?
At the rate things are going in the nation, the people’s anti-corruption crusade which was hijacked by President Mwanawasa in 2002 has descended into an unsalvageable farce.