Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Post managing editor reports GBM to police

Post managing editor reports GBM to police
By Bivan Saluseki and Namakau Nalumango
Tuesday July 17, 2007 [04:00]

POST managing editor Amos Malupenga yesterday reported Lusaka businessman Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba, popularly known as GBM, to the police for threatening violence. And Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) president Reuben Lifuka demanded that President Mwanawasa take appropriate action against Southern Province minister Joseph Mulyata for interfering in the work of junior government officers.

And, former inspector general of police Henry Mtonga said it was impossible for GBM to destroy The Post, as he had warned.
Press Freedom Committee of The Post chairperson Webster Malido said GBM's verbal attacks and threat of physical violence against Malupenga were regrettable and very unfortunate.

Meanwhile, intelligence sources yesterday maintained that Mulyata used bad language against the Roads Development Agency (RDA) officers who even complained about Mulyata's interference to finance minister Ng'andu Magande during President Mwanawasa's visit to Livingstone last week.

Malupenga complained against GBM's threats of violence at Lusaka Central Police Station to chief inspector Silungwe. He said GBM threatened to beat him up and warned of other unspecified actions against him.

GBM phoned and threatened Malupenga with violence following a Post story on Sunday to the effect that Mulyata had harassed and used bad language against RDA officers for impounding an overloaded bus belonging to GBM. This was after GBM pleaded with Mulyata to intervene in the matter. Malupenga said this story was accompanied by an editorial comment which alleged that the connivance by GBM and Mulyata to release the bus against the law smelt corruption.

"I reminded GBM that he was given an opportunity before the story was published to clarify his position and he said he did not know anything about that. I was wondering why he was now getting annoyed because he had a chance to clarify himself. At that point GBM lost his temper and started insulting and threatening violence. He said a lot of unpalatable things and I felt my life being threatened.

Malupenga said GBM threatened to crash and beat him up including destroying The Post. He further said GBM told him that starting yesterday, he would implement his destruction threats.

"I strongly feel my life is in danger and so the law should take its course," said Malupenga.
And intelligence sources maintained that Mulyata had physically gone to the weighbridge twice in order to try and secure GBM's bus. According to sources, Mulyata later summoned the RDA officers and the officer-in-charge to his office but they refused to budge even after they met him.

The sources said during the week when President Mwanawasa was in Livingstone, the officers briefed Magande over the pressure they were getting from Mulyata over GBM's bus and Magande said as finance minister he would encourage them to follow the law and not Mulyata's instructions.

Mulyata, according to the sources, on Thursday went to the weighbridge and used bad language against the officers. The source said as a result, one of the female employees who had the keys to the bus was affected by Mulyata's bad language and released the bus key against her will.

And Lifuka said TIZ was totally disgusted with Mulyata's apparent interference in the execution of duty by members of staff from the RDA. Lifuka said the fight against corruption was clearly being hampered by such actions and Mulyata should know that he was given the privilege to serve the people and not to abuse his authority by protecting wrongdoers.

He said the argument that the bus was detained for three days and that warranted the intervention of the minister was totally unacceptable.

"How many Zambians wait in queues to access government services each day, and how many of these have had the privilege of the minister intervening on their behalf? If indeed there are corrupt elements at the Livingstone weighbridge, why did the minister not report this matter to the Anti-Corruption Commission?" Lifuka asked.
He said by his actions, Mulyata had become the judge and jury and had already determined that the RDA workers were corrupt and had already decided in favour of his party colleague, GBM.

"What about the charge of overloading of the vehicle - has this suddenly gone away? The minister as a legislator should not demean the importance of the work that Parliament does by aiding persons to circumvent the same laws that he helped to legislate. Such actions of political interference clearly show that not everyone in President Mwanawasa's government is working towards the same common goal of eliminating corruption in the public service," he said.

Lifuka said it was unfortunate that Mulyata elected to support his party colleague in his wrongdoing instead of supporting the work of government officials who, for all he knew, resisted possible attempts of bribes.

"Such rare acts of honesty and dedication to service by the public sector workers needs to be encouraged instead of being scorned upon. Every day, we read and hear stories of corruption in the public service and we find it rather sad that when patriotic Zambians decide to work for the good of this country, the minister fails to acknowledge this, instead humiliates them in the manner reported in the media," he said.

"The minister sits in Parliament which approves the national budget and he should be fully alive to the fact we have limited resources as a country and we should be prudent in the way we use these resources. By his actions, he seems oblivious of the serious impact that overloading of vehicles has on our roads and the fact that there are other competing development needs. He seems to be consumed by the allegations of corruption by the bus crew and not the fact that the crew breached the law by their actions. We demand that President Mwanawasa take appropriate action against Mulyata, failure to which we will deduce that he condones such actions."

Lifuka said President Mwanawasa should investigate the matter and take the necessary action against Mulyata in order to send a strong message that corruption would not be condoned and that as leaders, their behaviour should be above board.
"Certainly, these actions dilute the fight against corruption and why should we complain when junior civil servants take the cue from their leaders and abuse their authority for private gain?" he asked.

Lifuka warned that there was a worrying trend in Zambia where people close to the centres of power were using 'embedded networks' to facilitate their business operations.

"This incidence is a good example where GBM has the audacity to even boast that there is nothing wrong for him to call the highest office in the province to intervene on his behalf. The question is why would GBM need intervention from the minister if his operations are above board and in conformity with the law?" he asked.
Lifuka said the cowboy mentality expressed by GBM towards The Post was a sad reflection of the type of people who present themselves for leadership in this country.

"We strongly condemn GBM for his unwarranted attacks on The Post newspapers and we wish to remind him to focus his energies in instilling discipline in his bus crews and ensure that they abide by the law. Threatening to beat up reporters and the use of other unpalatable language will not solve his problems, if anything it will just make it worse," said Lifuka.
Press Association of Zambia (PAZA) vice-president Amos Chanda said GBM should seek civilised ways of sorting out differences and his threats were totally unacceptable. Chanda said GBM could sit with the newspaper and negotiate with them or take legal action.

He said GBM's actions were a threat against media freedom.
"That behaviour is backward. It's unacceptable in a democracy. There are civilised options and the court is the final route," he said.
Chanda said GBM's threats bordered on criminal conduct.
And Mtonga said GBM's threats to destroy The Post were sad but impossible.
Mtonga said GBM's threats to The Post were unfair and hoped the leadership could learn to fight back intelligently as opposed to physical threats. He said if he wanted, GBM would have sought redress legally.

"It does not augur well for prospective leadership to rush into insults and personal threats, blackmail and extortion," he said.
Mtonga said he felt sad that people like GBM who had indicated quite early their desire to stand for presidency in MMD and probably lead Zambia should resort to such actions.

He asked Malupenga and The Post to hold their ground and not succumb to manipulation.
And RDA head of public relations Royce Saili said the agency would investigate circumstances under which GBM's bus was released without paying the necessary fines for overloading.
Press Freedom Committee of The Post newspapers chairperson Webster Malido said Mwamba's verbal attacks and his threat of physical violence against Malupenga were regrettable and very unfortunate.

Malido said such attacks bode ill for GBM's public aspiration for the Republican presidency.
"Not only has Mr Mwamba indulged in excessive defamatory conduct, but his ugly language borders on the infantile too. Granted, Mr. Mwamba has every right to speak, and the Press Freedom Committee of The Post would be the last one to inhibit him from enjoying this inalienable right," Malido said.

"However, Mr. Mwamba should be aware that as someone who is in public life and therefore under the scrutiny of the public spectacle, his actions will always be tried in the court of public opinion and as journalists we have a duty and responsibility to provide a platform for the public to judge the character of individuals, especially people like Mr Mwamba whose intentions for political office are not hidden."
Malido said instead of GBM invoking his physical abilities to silence journalists from reflecting objective realities, he would do well to defend himself relying largely on the truth and facts, and without forgetting that civility would not be a sign of weakness on his part.
"If Mr. Mwamba has a point to make over his case, he can do so without resorting to verbal violence or the threat of use of physical violence, unless he is telling us that we should revert to the state of nature where survival will be based on the physical strength of each one of us," said Malido.
MISA Zambia chairperson father Frank Bwalya urged The Post not to relent in highlighting some corrupt tendencies being perpetuated by both politicians and businessmen in the country.
Father Bwalya said The Post should continue publishing the truth because it was playing a major role in the fight against corruption through its watchdog role.
Father Bwalya said Mwamba's reaction to the story devoid of maturity and character for someone of his standing in the country.
"We want to believe that GBM is a politician who should aspire for higher office in the country. Now, utterances of that quality make very sad reading," he said
Father Bwalya said with the money that GBM claims to have, one expected him to be more responsible and to exhibit some high level of maturity.
"We in MISA condemn the threats in the strongest term. We want The Post to report the matter to the police because this is a security issue," he said.
He further urged politicians to be role models especially to the young ones through their conduct and decisions they make.

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