Zvamaida Murwira Senior Reporter
Norton Member of Parliament Mr Temba Mliswa and three other legislators accused of soliciting a US$400 000 bribe from a local businessman, were yesterday barred from sitting on the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines for bringing the House into disrepute.
They were also directed to apologise to the National Assembly for their conduct and are now set to lose a day’s sitting allowance.
Parliament’s Privileges Committee chaired by Chiefs Council president Fortune Charumbira said although there was no concrete evidence linking the four to the US$400 000 bribe allegations, they should be punished for bringing the august House into disrepute after they allegedly convened meetings at night, away from Parliament Building under the guise of holding official business.
Chief Charumbira said this when he tabled the Privileges Committee report in the National Assembly. The committee was set up early this year to investigate Mr Mliswa, Gokwe Kabuyuni MP Cde Leonard Chikomba (Zanu-PF), Magwegwe MP Mr Anele Ndebele and Binga North representative Mr Prince Sibanda ( both MDC-Alliance.)
The four were being investigated on allegations of demanding a US$400 000 bribe from local businessman Mr James Ross Goddard of JRG Contracting (Pvt) Ltd, as “facilitation fee” to help his company secure a mining contract at Hwange Colliery.
In the report, Chief Charumbira said his committee recommended that the four MPs be cleared on charges of soliciting for a bribe due to lack of sufficient evidence but said measures should be taken to rein in their behaviour.
“The committee is of the view that measures should be taken to ensure MPs are not involved in activities which are inconsistent with parliamentary decorum and as a deterrent measure,” said Chief Charumbira.
“It is the findings of the committee that the conduct of the four of convening a meeting with Mr Goddard and his team outside the parameters of official committee business at night and by further engaging in a discussion on a matter that was before the committee created an impression of impropriety.”
The committee noted that it was not clear why the legislators ended up discussing the Hwange issue instead of the debt Cde Chikomba said he was owed by Mr Shepherd Tundiya, the facilitator of the said meeting, at Mr Goddard’s Borrowdale offices.
It was also noted that the US$400 000 issue was raised by Cde Chikomba to Mr Tundiya in a car park who went on to submit his banking details but Mr Mliswa had long left the venue saying he had pressing family business.
“While the three Honourable Members, namely Hon Chikomba, Ndebele and Sibanda, indicated that the main purpose of the meeting was in pursuit of the debt owed to Hon Chikomba, the committee finds the explanation disingenuous as the issue was never discussed in Mr Goddard’s office,” said Chief Charumbira.
He said there were conflicting statements on how much Cde Chikomba was owed by Mr Tundiya as two different figures of US$2 100 and US$1 600 had been mentioned and why it had become urgent, given that it dated back to 2007.
The committee questioned whether a debt of US$2 000 would have ballooned to US$400 000 regadlesss of the exchange rate used.
“This begs the question, would a debt of US$2 000 have taken a businessperson of Mr Goddard’s stature to travel all the way from Shangani to Harare at night accompanied by his mining director to only give assurance to four MPs that he would take over and pay the debt on behalf of Tundiya? This puts to credence the allegations relating to solicitation. In response to a question why US$2 100 had risen to US$400 000 Hon Chikomba characterised it as a casual comment,” said Chief Charumbira.
The committee noted that it was also interesting that Mr Ndebele said he had accompanied Cde Chikomba in his capacity as a lawyer for the latter but surprisingly when the issue of US$400 000 was raised by Cde Chikomba, he sat in his car.