Friday, April 21, 2017

Richmond revived as minister, MP wrangle


By Athuman Mtulya

Dodoma. The Richmond emergency power scandal that cost the then Prime Minister Edward Lowassa his job in 2008 refuses to die and was the subject of a bitter exchange in Parliament between the Minister for Arts, Culture and Sports Harrison Mwakyembe and Arumeru East MP Joshua Nassari (Chadema).

Dr Mwakyembe who chaired a select committee of Parliament to investigate the scandal that also saw two ministers resign, was forced to defend his role in the probe when Mr Nassari accused him of playing the devil’s advocate in the matter of the raid on the Clouds TV station by armed men led by the Dar es Salaam regional commissioner.

Mr Nassari, who stopped short of labelling the minister a hypocrite, had on Wednesday evening during the debate on the budget of the office of the President, said Dr Mwakyembe had politicised the matter.

Yesterday, Dr Mwakyembe, who led the Parliamentary select committee to probe the multimillion dollar emergency power purchase scandal, challenged the Opposition to officially bring back the matter to Parliament for a fresh debate.

According to him, should the Opposition do so, he would resign from his current position in order “to finish the Richmond business once and for all.”

He didn’t expound, but since 2008 when the committee tabled the report showing how government officials used the 2006 power crisis to attempt to enrich themselves, it has remained a politically divisive issue with opposing views on the real intention of the probe.

The Richmond issue re-emerged on Wednesday evening when Mr Nassari asked why Dr Mwakyembe rejected a committee report by his predecessor Nape Nnauye on the invasion of Clouds Studios. He said the Information minister has declined to act because one side was not interrogated but wondered why he never reached out to Mr Lowassa for a balanced report, when he led the Richmond Committee.

Mr Nassari’s claimed that Dr Mwakyembe team only wanted to see him dropped from the government.

For many years thereafter, Mr Lowassa was tormented on the political platform by the Opposition, which claimed he was corrupt, with the Richmond scandal often cited as “proof” to his dirty dealings. Mr Lowassa has, however, distanced himself from any wrong doing, dismissing the allegations against him as politically motivated. The former Monduli MP has since been embraced by the Opposition after he defected from CCM to run for the presidency on a Chadema ticket, giving an impressive run against Dr John Magufuli. Mr Lowassa garnered over 6 million votes against Dr Magufuli’s 8 million.

In his contribution, Mr Nasari accused Dr Mwakyembe of remaining tight-lipped while there was “a mountain of evidence that Clouds Studios were invaded”, and the party that Dr Mwakyembe said wasn’t interrogated actually snubbed the Nnauye committee when it approached him.

Before his dismissal from the government, Mr Nnauye oversaw the investigation into the raid and presented the report which was incriminating of the Dar es Salaam RC. Mr Nnauye who explained that the RC had dodged being interrogated was guilty and expected his appointing authority to act against him.

It is believed that President Magufuli sacked the former minister over the matter. On Wednesday, Mr Mwakyembe stood on a point of order to briefly respond to Mr Nassari, saying the Richmond committee was not obliged to interrogate Mr Lowassa since they had enough evidence against him, “We only interrogated those that we didn’t have evidence against,” he said. But yesterday, the minister was given ample time during the wind-up session on issues raised during the debate on the President’s Office budget and said due to the nature of evidence they had gathered against Mr Lowassa, his committee decided to let the Parliament interrogate it.

“But that couldn’t happen since Mr Lowassa resigned when the report was tabled in here...the evidence is there and those of us who collected it are still here, so I say: bring it on. I really pray for the Opposition to bring up the matter once again,” said Dr Mwakyembe.

He argued that it would be very hard for the Opposition to cleanse Mr Lowassa from the Richmond dirt, adding::

“I have come to understand where Nassari summoned the courage to raise the matter; he was drunk. Security officers found him with a bottle of spirit and stopped him from entering the House with it.”

The statement prompted Ubungo MP (Chadema) Saed Kubenea, who claimed Dr Mwakyembe had somehow cleared Mr Lowassa in the House, saying he resigned for the faults of his subordinates, and he was ready to table the Hansard records to that effect.

Closing the matter, National Assembly Chairman Andrew Chenge ruled that if there was any MP who wanted to reopen the Richmond saga, then House regulations are clear and they should follow them.

Outside Parliament, Mr Nassari told The Citizen Dr Mwakyembe is the kind of politician that shouldn’t be trusted.

“If he says I was drunk, then he should bring proof, this is Parliament, and if they say I was stopped at the gate with a bottle of alcohol, I believe they can produce that evidence, but so far its empty talk. If he says there was enough evidence against Lowassa, I tell him there is enough evidence on Clouds Studios raid as well, and he should work on it.”

For his part, Kibamba MP (Chadema) John Mnyika told The Citizen that as Shadow Minister for Energy and Minerals, he unsuccessfully called on National Assembly leadership to officially reopen the Richmond matter a number of times in the past.

“We don’t have any problem with regard to the Richmond saga to being re-tabled in Parliament…But we want the part that President Jakaya Kikwete played in the deal to be explored. In the same weight, I would also ask him (Mwakyembe) to tell us why he is not working on the Nape committee’s report on Clouds TV studios raid,” he said.