Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dora to open her defence on Monday

Dora to open her defence on Monday
Written by Mwala Kalaluka and Maluba Jere
Saturday, March 21, 2009 8:21:14 AM

COMMUNICATIONS and transport minister Dora Siliya is expected to open her defence on Monday after the petitioners closed their case in the judge Dennis Chirwa Tribunal yesterday.

And Siliya's lawyers applied for an adjournment to allow them to adequately prepare for their defence.

This is in a matter where former communications and transport minister William Harrington and ten civil society organisations had petitioned Chief Justice Ernest Sakala to set up a tribunal to investigate alleged corruption and abuse of office involving Siliya.

Harrington and the civil society organisations urged Justice Sakala to probe Siliya for allegedly breaching the Parliamentary and Ministerial Code of Conduct in her engagement of RP Capital Partners of Cayman Islands to value Zamtel's assets before partial privatization and her cancellation of a tender that was awarded for the installation of radars at the Lusaka and Livingstone international airports.

Siliya is also being probed over her alleged claim of K12.5 million from Petauke District Council as refund for two hand pumps for two boreholes sunk in Nyika ward, when in fact the hand pumps were procured at K5 million.

One of Siliya's lawyers, Eric Silwamba, said he wanted time to prepare his requisite bundle of documents, including materials that he had just received pertaining to the allegations before the tribunal.

"With the leave of the tribunal, the respondents intend to open their case on Monday morning," Silwamba said. "It will enable me prepare my requisite bundle of documents including materials I have just received so that we can be sequential and effective in putting our case."

Silwamba said he could have opened his case yesterday but given the documents he would be collecting from everywhere, he may just end up confusing the tribunal.

He said he was aware that he had to close his case by March 26.

"I intimated this morning to State Counsel Mutale and he indicated that he had no objection," Silwamba said.

He made the application after the lawyers representing the ten civil society organisations in the matter closed their case.

The lawyers for the petitioners, Bonaventure Mutale and Eddie Mwitwa confirmed that their position was as Silwamba had put it.

Tribunal chairperson judge Chirwa allowed the adjournment but he observed that Silwamba's statement was quite contradictory in that he was talking about the tribunal's timetable on one hand while on the other, he wanted to waste the few hours that were available to conduct business for the day.

Sittings will resume on Monday at 09:00 hours.

And a witness told the tribunal that Siliya nominated a councillor to sit on the Petauke Central constituency development committee (CDC), against council regulations.

Petauke Council chairman Ousman Musa told the tribunal that Siliya had nominated councillor Ntaziko Zulu to sit on the CDC when regulations require councillors to nominate one of their own to sit on the committee.

During cross-examination by Silwamba, Musa said he did not lodge any official complaint over the above glaring irregularity as soon as he became council chairman because the CDC was already a year old in office.

"We saw it as normal," Musa said.

He said the sitting council chairman should have questioned the nomination at the time Siliya made it just after the 2006 general elections.

However, Musa said Zulu has since resigned to pursue other interests outside Petauke District.

Musa later told the tribunal that to his knowledge, Siliya had never attended any meeting by the constituency development committee in her constituency.

Musa said he felt very bad and underrated after Petauke Council secretary Boyd Mboyi suggested to him that he should also claim funds for the boreholes he had sunk in view of Siliya's K12.5 million claim from Petauke Council over the projects.

"He [Mboyi] thought I was desperate for money," he said.

Musa said he did not raise the issue before the consultative meeting of January 11, 2009, which was called to discuss suspicions of financial mismanagement at the council, because he was advised that it would be premature.

When judge Peter Chitengi asked him why he could not lodge a complaint over Mboyi's suggestion, Musa said he was convinced by advisors to wait.

Musa said he was advised that he had to follow the council procedures when dealing with matters of misappropriation of public funds in councils.

Musa said he wanted an audit inspection to be carried out on the council's books of accounts before he could lodge a complaint to the police.

Meanwhile, judge Chirwa told Mwitwa to advise Musa to approach the tribunal's secretariat if there was any issue that he wanted addressed by the tribunal.

This was after Mwitwa informed the tribunal that Musa had an issue he wanted to address before the proceedings following the conclusion of his testimony.

But judge Chirwa wondered why Musa should address the tribunal directly when Mwitwa was his lawyer.

Mwitwa said he did not want to put himself in another awkward situation.

Silwamba objected to Mwitwa's application saying it was unprocedural.

Judge Chirwa then told Mwitwa to advise Musa to approach the secretariat if he had any issue that he wanted to bring to the attention of the tribunal.

On Thursday afternoon, Musa said he did not recall attending any meeting where the council approved the sinking of two boreholes in Nyika ward in the district.

During examination in chief by Mwitwa, Musa testified that he did not sign for the funding of two boreholes sunk at Tasala and showground.

Musa explained that when the council has intentions of borrowing money, it first comes up with an agenda of a meeting where a resolution is passed either to borrow or not.

He told the tribunal that he saw the payment voucher for the boreholes for the first time [in court].

Musa also told the tribunal that a payment voucher for K12.5 million addressed to the council secretary indicated that it was a refund claim for an advance given to the council.

He said the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) for the council was charged for the claims.

Musa told the tribunal that he did not recall the council secretary ever telling him of any request to borrow money and that he did not attend any meeting where the council approved any CDF projects.

Musa denied having Talasa in his ward, contrary to what was indicated on the payment voucher.

Hearing continues on Monday.

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