Sunday, December 23, 2007

Reveal more on Carlington maize deal, Dr Chongwe urges Mahtani

Reveal more on Carlington maize deal, Dr Chongwe urges Mahtani
By Brighton Phiri and Kabanda Chulu
Sunday December 23, 2007 [03:00]

Lusaka lawyer Dr Rodger Chongwe has urged businessman Rajan Mahtani to reveal more on the Carlington maize deal which led to his arrest by former president Frederick Chiluba in 1998. And permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance Dr Wamundila Mbikusita-Lewanika has said the government does not favour Finance Bank and Professional Insurance in the awarding of long-term contracts.

Commenting on Chiluba and Mahtani's differences, Dr Chongwe said Mahtani should tell the nation all that he knew about the Carlington maize deal because it was very clear that Chiluba did not arrest him for treason but for the role he played in the Carlington maize deal.

"Mr Chiluba and Mahtani's differences in the media seem to suggest that there is something which is untold about the much talked about Carlington maize deal. It will be helpful for both Mr Chiluba and Mahtani to reveal more on the Carlington maize deal," Dr Chongwe said. "But it is Mr Mahtani who should reveal more on the Carlington maize deal which many Zambians believe led to his arrest. He must tell us what is it that provoked Mr Chiluba to arrest him."

Dr Chongwe said former finance minister Edith Nawakwi should also be asked to explain her involvement in the maize deal.
"Mr Chiluba, Mahtani and Nawakwi owe us a truthful explanation on their involvement in the Carlington maize deal," he said.

Dr Chongwe said Chiluba's court cases should not overshadow the issues he raised regarding the Mahtani Group of Companies' business dealings with the government. He said Chiluba's concerns about Mahtani's dealings with government required sincere and honest answers from President Mwanawasa.

"We all know Chiluba...he is facing criminal charges, but that does not mean that the issues he has raised should be brushed aside. Is it proper for one individual firm to be given favourable business above others?" Dr Chongwe asked. "Is it proper for the government to go ahead and award a contract to a private bank to procure the nation's crude oil without following tender procedures?"

Dr Chongwe said the government should explain why Zesco and INDENI insurance policies had been moved from Zambia State Insurance Corporation to Professional Insurances, which belongs to the Mahtani Group of Companies without any tender procedures.

And responding to participants at the Zambia National Tender Board (ZNTB) sensitisation workshop for editors in Lusaka on Friday, who accused the government of awarding huge contracts to Finance Bank and Professional Insurance, Dr Lewanika, refuted the allegations and said that there had been no foul play and that every decision was carried out in a transparent and thorough manner.

"Usually governments' decisions are based on the offers received from various entities and it is not true that Finance Bank and Professional Insurance are favoured in the awarding of contracts and in any case, there has been competition for those companies to secure the deals involved," Dr Lewanika said.

"Actually government does not fix its accounts and contracts to a particular institution because these issues are reviewed annually and the best entity is awarded the deal considering what they have offered such as interest rates, bank charges and fees, among other things."

Dr Lewanika emphasised that the government does not instruct ministries or departments to bank with a particular financial institution.
He said government departments were independent in their operations.

"Controlling officers decide what to do within their departments, for instance, the permanent secretary at agriculture ministry can decide what to do with funds allocated and surprisingly other controlling officers can make decisions that can result in one institution getting all the deals and government will not have any role in these decisions," he said.

The participants raised concerns and wondered why Finance Bank was being awarded huge contracts such as disbursing the rural development funds, irrigation funds and providing loans for the Food Reserve Agency and procurement of crude oil for Indeni Petroleum Refinery.

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