Saturday, October 09, 2010

High Court upholds Nyirongo’s conviction, reduces jail term

High Court upholds Nyirongo’s conviction, reduces jail term
By Maluba Jere
Fri 08 Oct. 2010, 14:20 CAT

THE Lusaka High Court has upheld the magistrates’ court decision to convict former Lands minister Reverend Gladys Nyirongo on charges of abuse of authority. However, the high court has quashed the four year jail sentenced slapped on Rev Nyirongo by Lusaka principal resident magistrate Sharon Kaunda Newa and reduced it to two years simple imprisonment.

This was in a case where Rev. Nyirongo stood charged with two counts of abuse of authority of office contrary to the Laws of Zambia.

Particulars of the offence were that Rev. Nyirongo on a date unknown but between January 12, 2006 and February 22, 2007 in Lusaka, being a person employed in the public service as Minister of Lands directed Daisy Mulenga M'soka, a lands officer at the Ministry of Lands to generate offer letters of land in Foxdale area.

The letters of offer were given to Walinase Nyirongo, Janet Isaac Nyirongo, Peter Kapolya, Peter Ngulube, Precious Ndhlovu, Doris Mulenga, Mubanga Muyunji, Mickey Mukubu, Mwelwa Kamfwa, Bruce Chipasha and Dingwall Hayden in contravention of land alienation procedures, an act prejudicial to the interests of the government of the Republic of Zambia.

On the second count, Rev Nyirongo on unknown dates but between October 2006 and April 24, 2007 in Lusaka abused her position by directing Christopher Chewe, a junior technical officer in the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, to subdivide Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines Farm F/309a in property No.L/19634/M for her and that she obtained property for herself.

However, Rev Nyirongo appealed to the High Court against her four-year jail sentence contending that the court below erred in law and fact when it convicted her on the sole evidence of Daisy Mulenga whose evidence she said was uncollaborated and contradictory.

She also contended that the court erred when it ignored the evidence given by Mulenga that she only issued letters of offer after being instructed by the Commissioner of Lands.

Passing judgment in the mater yesterday, Lusaka High court judge-in-charge Philip Musonda sitting with justices Albert Wood and Ndola High Court judge Jane Kabuku, said the court noted that Rev Nyirongo was in a position of trust which she breached.

Judge Kabuku who read out the judgment said that did not take away the fact that she was a first offender and that the court was alive to the fact that its decision would also impact on her position as member of parliament.

“For the reasons given, we quash the four year simple imprisonment term sentence imposed by the court below. In place thereof a two year simple imprisonment term is substituted to run concurrently with the sentence imposed by the court below in count one,” she said.

Earlier, the court explained that for the allegations against Rev. Nyirongo to be proved the elements of offence which needed to be proved were that she was a public officer, there needed to be abuse of authority and the acts were arbitrarily prejudicial to the government.

The court noted that Rev. Nyirongo’s conduct as alleged in count one, was arbitrary saying the authority to alienate land solely lies with the Commissioner of Lands.

Judge Kabuku also noted that Rev. Nyirongo’s action of including people on the list of those that had applied for land were prejudicial to the interest of government saying her actions were merely to appease cadres.

She further said the evidence before court to the effect that Rev. Nyirongo directed that various people be included on the list of applicants for land in Foxdale and were subsequently offered land, was truly an abuse of authority on her part.

Judge Kabuku said it was incomprehensible that against the background of the witnesses’ evidence, Rev. Nyirongo’s explanation was that she went through all this trouble for the sake of assisting Chewe, a junior officer in another ministry who was trying to fast track acquisition of land.

“The appellant was placed at the centre of the events surrounding the creation of two subdivision farm 390a plot number 19633/m and 19634/m,” said judge Kabuku.

The court further observed that the court below found that Rev. Nyirongo had interests in the said land saying that was the reason why she wrote the notes to find out what was delaying the process.

“This interest was consistent with the evidence of PW7. She told him she wanted land which evidence was not discredited,” judge Kabuku said. “There was also her own evidence she was following up an earlier application for land.”

Before judge Kabuku could finish reading the judgment particularly on her appeal against the four year jail sentence, Rev. Nyirongo’s lawyer Robson Malipenga asked the court for a short adjournment to allow his client go and vomit.

Rev. Nyirongo then left the court room accompanied by a few of her relatives but returned shortly afterwards.

Malipenga has indicated that they would be appealing against the judgment.

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