The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has arrested Housing and Infrastructure Development Minister Ronald Chitotela and charged him with nine more corruption charges.
And Transparency International Zambia has made a fresh appeal to President Edgar Lungu to relieve Chitotela of his duties so that the corruption-accused can focus on defending himself.
Chitotela arrived at the ACC headquarters in Lusaka around 9:30 hours, Thursday and only left around 12:45 hours in the company of his lawyers Jonas Zimba and James Mataliro after being granted bond.
“The Anti-Corruption Commission has arrested the Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Honourable Ronald Chitotela, and charged him with 9 Counts of possession and concealing of property suspected to be proceeds of crime. Honourable Ronald Chitotela, 47, has been charged with one count of Concealing Property suspected of being proceeds of crime, and 8 counts of possession of property suspected to be proceeds of crime contrary to Section 71 subsection (1) of the Forfeiture of Proceeds of Crime Act Number 19 of 2010,” stated ACC public relations manager Timothy Moono.
Moono stated that Chitotela had since been released on bond and would appear in court soon.
On February 5, the ACC arrested the Housing and Infrastructure Development Minister and slapped him with two counts of concealing property suspected to be proceeds of crime.
Trial for the matter is ongoing but President Edgar Lungu has vowed that he will not fire his minister on mere allegations.
Responding to public pressure the first time Chitotela was arrested, President Lungu he did not want to lose another minister the way he lost his now political rival Chishimba Kambwili.
“Remember how I lost Chishimba Kambwili? They came to me, they said he is corrupt. I said ‘investigate him’, they investigated him, along the way they said ‘he is not cooperating, he is insulting us, you know he is very vulgar’, I am sorry to say that but he is vulgar, he can be vulgar, they were crying in my office, I said ‘what can I do?’ In my judgement, I said ‘remove him’, I removed him. Chishimba, up to now we are waiting for the ACC, the DEC and all those who brought allegations against him to prove their allegations in the courts of law. So you want me to lose Chitotela on that basis again? I am saying no. I will give them leeway to arrest and prosecute, bring to court the culprit but I will not interfere, I will even fund them to do their operations but those who are calling for the removal of honorable Chitotela now, I say ‘no, give me space to breathe’, but don’t interfere with the process, bring your evidence but let him also have his day in court,” said President Lungu.
But responding to a press query, TIZ president Rueben Lifuka refreshed calls for Chitotela’s dismissal.
“Transparency International Zambia has received the news of the arrest of Hon Chitotela on additional charges, with great concern. We are concerned that despite our earlier pleas to the Republican President to relieve the Minister of his duties, to allow him focus on defending him on allegations of corruption, this has not been done. These new allegations provides us another opportunity to appeal to both President Lungu and Hon Chitotela to take this advice seriously. While our call is by no means an indication that Hon Chitotela is guilty, we think that our leaders should do everything possible to ensure that investigations into any allegations of wrong doing are not fettered in any way possible. President Lungu needs to show leadership and ensure that no person is shielded from a free and independent investigation,” Lifuka said.
“A serving Cabinet Minister is not an ordinary person and one who wields a lot of power and influence. It will not help this Government which professes to be serious about the fight against corruption, if those who are politically connected are seemingly treated differently in the eyes of the law. And the question is why is this case being treated in a special way? Hon Emerine Kabanshi was fired on mere allegations and it has taken several months before she was formally arrested and charged. President Lungu’s predecessors took action against Ministers who were facing allegations of wrong doing – President Lungu has to send a strong message to his Ministers and all those working with him that he will not protect them from the long arm of the law whenever allegations of impropriety arise. And he can start by taking what clearly is an action that he seems uncomfortable with for whatever reasons of relieving Hon. Chitotela of his ministerial duties.”
Lifuka warned that keeping Chitotela in office was setting a bad precedence.
“The political and administrative consequences of this lack of action on the part of the President will soon come to manifest when other public servants refuse to vacate office on account that they have not been found guilty. We want to use this occasion to again call on President Lungu to facilitate the undertaking of life style audits for all cabinet ministers including himself. The only way to deal with public concerns of self and illicit enrichment among cabinet ministers, is to subject everyone to a Life style audit. Surely, a leadership that has publicly proclaimed it is running a clean government, should not have any trepidations about a simple life style audit,” stated Lifuka.