Monday, July 22, 2013

Rupiah wants to go
By Joseph Mwenda and Mwala Kalaluka
Wed 10 July 2013, 14:00 CAT

FORMER president Rupiah Banda is now seeking to get his passport back using his knee. Banda's senior private secretary Mikatazo Wakumelo says "the passport will be needed to enable him travel to South Africa to seek medical attention for his knee problem".

And sources have disclosed that this would be an opportunity for the former president to leave Zambia for a "breath of fresh air".

Meanwhile, Banda's office has described Lameck Mangani's attempts to drag the former president into politics when he has already concluded his tour of duty as most unfortunate.

On Monday, Banda arrived at the Lusaka Magistrates' Court complaining audibly about his leg.

"This leg is giving me pain, it started over the weekend," Banda said to his sympathisers as he disembarked from his official motor vehicle outside the Magistrates' Court Complex.

And in an interview at the Lusaka Magistrates' Court yesterday, Wakumelo said sooner or later, Banda would be required to go to South Africa for medical check-up.

"Yes, that knee problem is not new. He has had it for some time now and sooner or later he will be required to travel. Unfortunately, he will have to travel to South Africa where they (the state) do not want him to go," he said.

Asked if there was anything stopping Banda from fleeing once he leaves the country, Wakumelo said it was not his nature.

"Banda has travelled before after leaving the government, he has not run away. Why would he run away now?" he wondered.

When reminded that Banda had never been granted an opportunity to leave the country since his arrest, Wakumelo said his office was aware of attempts to scandalise the former president.

"The problem is that there are some people in the system (government) who do not understand the law… Did you know that the letter of cancellation of his (Banda's) passport was not written by the Chief Passport Officer? It was signed by someone else. You should ask the government who drafted that letter on behalf of the passport officer?" he said.

He said it was not true that Banda had asked for asylum from South Africa or Kenya.

"Banda has not met the Kenyan President since his election into office, how did he ask for that asylum? You need to understand that the whole world is watching," Wakumelo said.

He said with or without a diplomatic passport, Banda will be accorded VIP treatment whenever he travelled out of the country.

Wakumelo also questioned why Banda should apply for an ordinary passport when the law clearly provides that he was entitled to a diplomatic passport together with the former first lady.

But sources have disclosed that Banda intends to apply to travel to South Africa for other reasons.

"It will be difficult for them (government) to block him from travelling to seek medical attention. Also he feels suffocated with all what has been going on and it will be an opportunity for him to take a breath of fresh air, away from the court issues," source said.

Sources said Banda's knee problem was not serious but it was procedural medical examination.

Banda's knee problem was last reported in November 2011 when he went to South Africa for a routine check.

Wakumelo told the media then that the former Head of State was not ill.

"It's just a routine check-up. I am sure you remember that knee. Even if you called our embassy here, they will tell you there is nothing wrong. He has been enjoying good health apart from the old knee problem," Wakumelo said then.

Banda has been trying to leave the country since his arrest for alleged abuse of authority of office on April 15.

His passport was subsequently withdrawn after his second arrest where he was accused of having received nine light trucks as gratification from a Chinese construction company.

In April, Banda re-obtained his passport through a court order to attend Uhuru Kenyata's inauguration in Kenya but his travel was stopped by immigration officers at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport.

In July, the former president attempted to leave the country again, this time to attend the Boston University's African Presidential Roundtable in Johannesburg, but immigration officers stopped him once again, before his diplomatic passport was later cancelled.

Meanwhile, reacting to assertions by Mangani, the ruling PF parliamentary candidate in the July 25 Chipata Central by-election, that he was pumping a lot of money in the opposition MMD candidate Mtolo Phiri's campaign to ensure that he (Mangani) loses, Wakumelo said that there was no truth in the statement.

"It is also good that Mangani has no evidence whatsoever. It is just speculation," said Wakumelo when asked what the former president's reaction was to Mangani's assertion. "Mangani himself says he is the former president's relative. Now, what is wrong with shaking hands with a relative? Does it mean that if he shakes hands with Mtolo Phiri then it means he is bankrolling the MMD campaign?"

Mangani said in an interview that Banda was still interested in seeing him lose the seat.

"The message we are getting as PF on the ground is that MMD have got enough resources and these resources are from the former president. Remember, prior to the general elections in 2011, the former president swore that he will make sure that Lameck Mangani loses. So, that interest may still be there this time to ensure that I lose the seat. In short, I am saying I cannot rule out the possibility of some money sneaking into this by-election," said Mangani.

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