Tanzania charges ex-ministers over deal

Tanzania has charged two former ministers with impropriety over the award of a mineral audit tender in 2002, court documents showed.

The prosecution of former Finance Minister Basil Mramba and former Energy and Minerals Minister Daniel Yona is the latest in a string of cases being pursued by President Jakaya Kikwete’s government, whose anti-graft drive is watched closely by donors.

Both men were close political allies of Kikwete’s predecessor, President Benjamin Mkapa. Mramba also served in Kikwete’s Cabinet before being dropped earlier this year.

They both denied the charges in court on Tuesday and were remanded in custody until December 5 for failing to raise bail. They were also ordered to surrender their passports.

Court documents accused them of abusing their authority ”by arbitrarily procuring M/S Alex Stewart (Assayers) UK and its subsidiary company M/S Alex Stewart (Assayers) Government Business Corporation”.

The agreement was for auditing the amount of gold Tanzania, Africa’s third largest producer, was mining.

The Resident Magistrate’s Court in Dar es Salaam did not accuse the companies named of any wrongdoing. Alex Stewart Group Limited, based in Britain, said it was in no way involved in the matter.

Fighting corruption has been high on Kikwete’s list of priorities since he came to power in late 2005. Last year, parliament passed a stiffer anti-graft law targeting government procurement among other areas.

Critics of his government have previously said it was slow to apprehend culprits involved in corruption, a trend that has slowly started turning around.

Among the charges Mramba and Yona face are that they extended Alex Stewart Government Business Corporation’s contract for two years after its expiry in 2005, disregarding a team set up to review the deal.

Mramba is also accused of unjustifiably exempting Alex Stewart Assayers’ local subsidiary from paying 11,75-billion shilling ($9,32-million) in taxes.

Tanzania’s director of public prosecutions has said in the past that more corruption-related arrests are in the pipeline, but has said he will not risk ongoing investigations by bowing to public pressure and naming names.

At least 13 individuals are in court for their involvement in a 2005 scandal in which the government paid $105,5-million to companies using flawed or non existent records from the central Bank of Tanzania’s External Payment Arrears Account (EPA).

In January, Kikwete fired the then central bank governor, the late Daudi Ballali, in connection with the saga. Kikwete’s first prime minister, Edward Lowassa, resigned in February following a parliamentary probe into an emergency power procurement tender.

In April, Infrastructure Minister Andrew Chenge resigned amid local media reports of corruption in a controversial 2002 radar purchase agreed while he was attorney-general. – Reuters

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