NAREP president Elias Chipimo says Infrastructure Development Minister Ronald Chitotela will be a hindrance to investigations into the corruption charges against him if he is not dropped from his position to let him prove his innocence.
Chitotela who is also member of parliament for Pambashe constituency under the ruling Patriotic Front was on Thursday last week arrested again by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and charged with nine more charges of corruption.
The minister was first arrested earlier this year on February 5th, charged with two counts of concealing property suspected to be proceedings of crime, a matter which is still under trial in the Lusaka Magistrates’ Court.
Commenting on the latest arrest in an interview, Chipimo said the fact that Chitotela could be retained in Cabinet despite facing 11 charges of corruption allegations was proof that his arrest could be nothing more than a big political game being played.
“Honourable Chitotela should have never been in the position he’s in on the original charges, let alone from these new ones. So we can’t expect that there will be any difference from the appointing authority. If he wasn’t removed from cabinet on the earlier charges, then it’s very likely that he will not be removed from cabinet on these current charges. Unless there are underlined reasons why he has been arrested again. This may just be part of a bigger political game that is being played and may be the rest may have just been a warning. Maybe this second arrest could have been a warning because the first was not heeded…otherwise, there is no serious intention to fight corruption in this country,” Chipimo said.
Chipimo insisted that it was immoral to have Chitotela remain in charge of a ministry despite the corruption allegations.
“The concern here is for the country and what it says about the rule of law because if someone has committed a crime or is accused of having committed a crime of that nature, the normal thing you would do, given the authority of that individual as a minister is that the minister would step down from that office until that crime is thoroughly investigated and a conclusion was made as to whether he is guilty or innocent. If he does interfere in the investigations, it gives a wrong signal about how serious one is about fighting this crime. So my point is if honourable Chitotela was not removed from office or suspended from his duties the first time he was arrested on similar charges then unless there is some underlined political game being played, he’s not likely to be removed even this time. And if he’s removed this time then we need to ask ourselves why he wasn’t removed the last time because he should have been removed from office pending investigations and outcome,” said Chipimo.
“You have to remember that this alleged crime relates to his work directly in the ministry. So his juniors and his other officials that will have to be interrogated in order to get to the bottom of this issue will feel intimidated by him still being in office while such investigations are being conducted. So we are not likely to get a thorough and well developed investigation… this is a moral issue because this particular appointee is an appointee of the President. So there is an exclusion in that respect, so this is a moral question really. It only boarders on the legal question only because it hampers investigations as the individual being investigated has the final authority in a particular ministry and his juniors will be the ones that will be having to provide evidence against him. So they would be easily victimised by the minister.”