BY VENERANDA LANGA
ORAL evidence of the Parliamentary Privileges Committee set up to look into a matter involving four legislators affiliated to the Mines Committee who allegedly demanded a $400 000 bribe from businessman James Goddard to facilitate a contract with Hwange Colliery Company (HCC), failed to kick off yesterday after the accused legislators’ legal team stopped the proceedings on a technicality.
The four MPs, accused of demanding $400 000 from Goddard so that they can assist him to get a contract with HCC are: Temba Mliswa (Norton), Anele Ndebele (Magwegwe), Prince Dubeko Sibanda (Binga North) and Leonard Chikomba (Gokwe Kabuyuni).
Senator Chief Fortune Charumbira chaired the Privileges Committee made up of Jonathan Samukange (Mudzi South, Zanu PF), Tatenda Mavetera (PR, Zanu PF), Chido Madiwa (Mutasa North, Zanu PF), and Innocent Gonese (Mutare Central, MDC Alliance), and in absentia Paurina Mpariwa (PR, MDC Alliance).
Sibanda and Ndebele did not attend, but were represented by Job Sikhala, who is also Zengeza West legislator and Freddie Masarirevhu of Koto and Company Legal Practitioners, while Mliswa was represented by Tawanda Zhuwarara and Chikomba was represented by Simon Musapatika.
Before oral evidence could begin, Charumbira said Sikhala must recuse himself from representing Sibanda and Ndebele because he was conflicted according to parliamentary code of ethics in that he was legal counsel to the two MPs and a legislator at the same time.
“We, as the Privileges Committee, find that there is prima facie conflict of interest in that when the report is finally tabled in Parliament, you will debate on it and we believe that your participation will be conflict of interest,” Charumbira said.
But Sikhala argued that there was no conflict of interest because section 69(4) of the Constitution stipulated that every person has a right, at their own expense, to choose and be represented by a legal practitioner before any court, tribunal or forum, adding that Charumbira’s ruling was denying Sibanda and Ndebele their constitutional right to a legal practitioner of their choice.
“Parliament must uphold the Constitution because every citizen of this country has a right to be represented, unless if Parliament wants to represent itself as a kangaroo court – this is unacceptable,” Sikhala charged and threatened that if he was not allowed to represent the two MPs he would file a High Court application to stop the Privileges Committee proceedings.
Later, Sikhala told journalists that: “They (Privileges Committee) are afraid of me because I am well aware of Parliament proceedings and they want Ndebele and Sibanda to hire lawyers that are not acquainted with Parliament procedure so that they have a field day. There are five Zanu PF MPs in the Privileges Committee and they have overpowered Gonese. The committee has pre-determined the outcome of this case and they have issues with Mliswa and Chikomba because of Zanu PF factions.”
The committee later ruled that Masarirevhu must represent Sibanda and Ndebele under Sikhala’s instruction.
Mliswa’s lawyer Zhuwarara then demanded that the exact charges of the proceedings be made clear – and whether the Privileges Committee wanted to lay charges on the accused. He said the committee should explain whether the case will replicate that of former MDC-T legislator Roy Bennet who was imprisoned for a year after he assaulted former Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa in Parliament.
Zhuwarara said he will also need to know the issues involved in the case so that they are able to cross-examine Goddard because he was taking the case seriously.
“Mliswa shall also be filing his preliminary objections and we ask for all affidavits to be given to us at the same time to avoid witnesses lying,” Zhuwarara said.
Musapatika also noted that proceedings could not go on before the lawyers were furnished with affidavits of the complaint and witnesses who include the four MPs, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya, David Steyn, and Shepherd Tundiya.
The Privileges Committee acknowledged that issues raised by the lawyers were valid, but Charumbira warned Sikhala to desist from referring to the committee as a kangaroo court. Oral evidence will continue today after the committee agreed to furnish the lawyers with all the requested documents.