April 15, 2003

Mwanawasa steps up anti-corruption fight

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has stepped up his anti-corruption crusade by banning cabinet ministers and senior officials from bidding for government contracts, a move cheered by civil society groups. "If you [government ministers] feel business is more important for you, it is better for you to resign as you cannot have it both ways [do business and serve government]," Mwanawasa said at a campaign rally on Sunday, April 13, in eastern Zambia. He vowed to sack any government officials using their positions to win government contracts.

"I think this is a bold step by the president once again, as far as the corruption fight is concerned. As the church, we welcome this but our main concern is whether this government has the capacity to know whether a guy who has bid and won a tender is a friend or relative of a cabinet minister ... has President Mwanawasa done enough research? That is our concern," Reverend Japheth Ndlovu, general-secretary of the influential Christian Council of Zambia (CCZ) told IRIN.

Mwanawasa has spearheaded a drive against graft since coming to power in December 2001. His renewed vow to weed out corruption has come barely a week after Vice-President Enoch Kavindele was allegedly linked to two multi-million dollar business deals. Kavindele was said to be connected to a company contracted as the sole importer of crude oil to Zambia, Trans-Sahara Trading (TST), and the South African cellular phone provider, Vodacom. He has denied involvement in either case, but said his son had direct dealings with the companies. Mwanawasa has since used his presidential powers to terminate prematurely the TST deal, news reports said.

While Mwanawasa's corruption crusade has been generally welcomed - domestically and by international donors - his presidency remains mired in controversy over the conduct of the 2001 election. The Supreme Court is hearing a petition by opposition parties in which top former officials have testified that tax payers' money was used to illegally fund Mwanawasa's campaign. But Mwanawasa has not been distracted. Arrest warrants have been issued against former president Frederick Chiluba and senior figures in his administration, which ruled Zambia for 10 years - an era known as the "decade of plunder".

In a separate development, the Zambian government has lifted a two-year ban on safari hunting concessions that was imposed after widespread corruption in the hunting industry. Tourism minister Patrick Kalifungwa offically announced the unbanning on Tuesday, April 15, and urged future hunting concessionaires to have zero tolerance for corruption. "I want to bring integrity and transparency to the industry, which was eroded tremendously over the years with allegations of corrupt practices," Kalifungwa said.

Kalifungwa said a great deal of revenue had been lost during the ban. He said apart from the local communities and the private sector, Zambia Wildlife Authority (Zawa) was among the most affected when safari hunting was banned, as 60 per cent of its operational budget depends on its income. He said Zawa had lost a considerable amount of revenue which had affected its operations and had struggled to meet its mandate of conserving Zambia's wildlife.

Mr Kalifungwa said the policy of the ministry was to ensure that tourism contributed positively towards poverty reduction by creating additional employment and diversify the livelihood of the people in the game management areas (GMAs) where hunting took place. "The ministry's intention is that local communities through community resource boards should benefit from the activities of safari hunting and participate fully," he said. 50 per cent of safari fees meant for the local communities should be used by them and not individuals representing local communities. (The Times of Zambia, Ndola / African Eye News Service, Nelspruit / IRIN)

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