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  • Christine Chumbler
    No case against Ntaba, Lipenga*ACB by Francis Tayanjah-Phiri, 24 February 2006 - 04:51:29 The Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) has said there is no evidence that
    Message 1 of 1046 , Feb 24, 2006
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      No case against Ntaba, Lipenga*ACB
      by Francis Tayanjah-Phiri, 24 February 2006 - 04:51:29
      The Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) has said there is no evidence that would warrant prosecution of cabinet ministers Dr Hetherwick Ntaba and Ken Lipenga on corruption charges.
      Media reports late last year indicated that Health Minister Ntaba drew allowances amounting to K500,000 for a parliamentary trip he never took. He is said to have returned half the allowances.
      Minister of Labour Lipenga, on the other hand, drew allowances amounting to K183,000 from the Malawi Posts Corporation for a trip he did not take to South Africa. He also returned the money.
      ACB Director Gustave Kaliwo in an interview in Mzuzu said his organisation was not shielding the two ministers.
      He said the matter was not about corruption or theft because the ministers involved "did not dip into government coffers or special accounts" for illegal purposes as was the case with former Education Minister Yusuf Mwawa.
      "In Malawi, if you are given money, for instance, if the ACB is organising a workshop in Mzuzu, it gives you money in advance. Can't you use the money if you have some problems? All that you expect is that when the workshop finally comes, you can't claim some more money on top of what you already received," he said.
      He added: "If the assumed workshop fails, it's up to the organisers to find ways of getting back the money*you are indebted to them and arrangements must be made to retrieve the money. This may be attending another workshop without having allowances paid."
      Kaliwo said the law punishes the guilty mind, adding, one must have a guilty mind before committing an offence which was not the case with the allowance issue.
      He cited a Supreme Court judgment on UDF Governor for the South John Chikakwiya where the court ruled that if one is accused of theft by public servant, the responsible authority must first of all demand from the person to account for the money.
      Kaliwo said this was not the case in the matter concerning the two ministers.
      Kaliwo also parried allegations that the Bureau was only targeting the opposition and leaving government ministers to get away with corruption..
      Kaliwo said if this were the case, the Bureau would not have prosecuted Mwawa.
      He said: "The Mwawa issue happened when he was in DPP government and action was taken during the same regime."
      Law Society of Malawi spokesperson Linda Ziyendam'manja said pushing ACB to prosecute Ntaba and Lipenga could be overstretching their mandate.
      "I think from the legal aspect, facts as presented are not per se elements of corruption because the definition of corruption hinges on when one gets paid to do something. But in this case, these people got allowances for trips, but maybe due to some circumstances that neither you or me know, the trips did not take place," said Ziyendam'manja in an interview.
      She said her sentiments did not mean that the public has no right to know where the money went. She said it was the duty of the people who received the allowances to account for it.
      But UDF spokesperson Sam Mpasu said it was not a secret that ACB was discriminatory in its operations, adding Chikakwiya was jailed for funds from private and not public coffers.
      "It is a fact that Ntaba and Lipenga pocketed taxpayers money only to pay back after the issue was exposed in the media. All these ministers who pocketed money should be prosecuted and let the court establish whether they were guilty or not," he said.
      Mpasu alleged ACB prosecuted Mwawa after he had gone back to the UDF.
      "After that issue was reported in the media, what government did as a face saver was just to remove him from cabinet. But immediately Mwawa went back to the UDF and started talking of people involved in shady deals, they prosecuted him," he said.
      MCP spokesperson Nicholus Dausi said the development calls into question the credibility of the ACB in carrying out its duties.
      "Suppose these ministers were in opposition and paid back the money, would they have been left scot-free? I think the ACB should have first gathered all the facts on the matter before making the decision. There must be equity before the law," said Dausi.


      Speaker, House appeal against Section 65 ruling
      by Olivia Kumwenda, 24 February 2006 - 04:56:53
      The Speaker of Parliament and the National Assembly have appealed to the Supreme Court against the Constitutional Court ruling that the two cannot be allowed to be heard in the case where President Bingu wa Mutharika asked the court to interpret Section 65 of the Constitution as they are not legal or juristic persons.
      The court also ruled that Speaker Louis Chimango had no authority to hire private lawyers*Titus Mvalo and Kalekeni Kaphale*to represent his office and the House in the matter without being instructed by the Attorney-General (AG) Ralph Kasambara as stipulated in Section 98 (2) of the Constitution.
      After the ruling, lawyer Tamando Chokotho*who was standing in for Kaphale and Mvalo*applied for and was granted leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal.
      Mvalo said in an interview on Wednesday they filed for the appeal on January 31, 2006.
      "We have appealed against the decision of the court that the National Assembly and the Speaker can't be part of the case but I can't tell you the grounds because I don't want to pre-empt issues," said Mvalo.
      He also said the court is yet to set a date for the case.
      Mutharika asked the court to interpret Section 65 (i) of the Constitution which empowers the Speaker to declare vacant a seat of an MP who has voluntarily ceased to be a member of a party that sponsored him/her into the House or who joined another political party represented in the National Assembly.
      Chimango was to pass a verdict on MPs deemed to have crossed the floor but was stopped by the court after government obtained an injunction seeking interpretation of the section.
      But the Speaker and the National Assembly applied for the dismissal of the application to interpret the Section.
      Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court is expected to give its verdict on parties to be presented and procedures to be followed in a case involving the constitutionality of impeachment procedures.
      This follows a submission by lawyer Maxon Mbendera representing Mutharika that the court should give direction on whether his client can be part of the case considering that the Constitution of Malawi says the President cannot be sued.


      Govt summons Veep's staff
      by Mabvuto Banda, 24 February 2006 - 04:55:32
      The Office of the President and Cabinet and the Attorney-General's chambers have summoned five people from the office of the Vice-President Cassim Chilumpha to answer questions about the movement of a cabinet bag and their work relationship with their boss.
      A Cabinet bag contains minutes of Cabinet meetings and other confidential communication.
      The staff, The Nation found out on Thursday, appeared before Alex Maluza, who is a secretary in the Cabinet and Attorney-General Ralph Kasambara.
      Fahad Assani, a member of Chilumpha's legal team, confirmed the development which he described as "a perversion of justice."
      "Questioning innocent people and making them sign affidavits that they do not know and understand is perversion of justice because the intentions of the state are well known in this instance," Assani said.
      A member of Chilumpha's staff (name withheld) confided in The Nation that four staffers, three from Blantyre and one from Lilongwe, were asked about the Cabinet bag at OPC and if the Vice-President used to receive it.
      Yesterday Maluza declined to comment, saying that it is only the Chief Secretary for Cabinet Bright Msaka who can answer such questions*when asked why they have been summoning Chilumpha's staff.
      The Attorney-General was said to be out of the country when we tried to reach him for comment. Msaka also could not be traced for comment as we went to press.
      Assani said Chilumpha's legal team will challenge the move in court when the case starts.
      "If anything, these are people who are supposed to be our witnesses since they stay with the Vice-President, but if they want them, let them get them, we are ready for them in court," he said.
      Malawi Law Society President Alick Msowoya dismissed Assani's concerns that the staff should be witnesses for Chilumpha.
      "There is no property in a witness, a witness is obliged to say the truth and that's all that matters," he said.


      Panos photos has an online exhibition of some lovely and haunting photos from a village in Malawi. Here's the background:
      Click on the photo to enter the gallery.


      Bob's lift doesn't reach the top floor

      Godwin Gandu

      24 February 2006 07:16

      It is official -- Zanu-PF's financial crisis does not go right to the top. The party has not held its weekly politburo meeting since the beginning of the year because it cannot afford to fix the lift in its 14-storey Harare headquarters.

      This week, politburo bigwigs congregated for their first meeting in weeks in the ground-floor hall normally reserved for conferences and public meetings.

      The party is battling to raise what sounds like the huge sum of Z$160-million (R6 154) needed for spares and maintenance.

      But the crisis has not deterred the party fund-raising committee from setting itself the target of raising Z$10-billion (R384 615) for Mugabe's 82nd birthday bash, to be held at Mutare this weekend. This is many times the amount Otis elevators has quoted the party to fix its lift.

      "The cost could be higher because there are no spare parts locally available for the elevators. This means forking out foreign currency," says a staff member at headquarters.

      Party insiders say the faction headed by retired general Solomon Mujuru has seized the opportunity presented by Zanu-PF's financial woes to further the campaign to isolate Emmerson Mnangagwa in the battle to succeed Mugabe. Mnangagwa was in charge of party finances in the 1990s.

      The Mail & Guardian has been reliably informed that the five companies owned by the party "are in the red and run down". Its publishing house, Jongwe Printers, almost had to auction its printing press, recently imported from Germany, to settle an estimated Z$300-million debt. Party employees have gone for months without pay.

      Secretary of Information Nathan Shamuyarira devised a repayment schedule -- which was unfortunately rejected by its creditors.

      The party has debts of more than $2-billion (R76 922), most of which have not been serviced since last year's parliamentary elections.

      Although it is expected to land a Z$12-billion (R461 538) allocation under the Political Parties Finance Act next week, this will not be enough to clear it debts, which include the cost of buying new cars for the provinces.

      Angered by the state of party finances, Mugabe is understood to have acceded to a thorough investigation of the party's books. It will be led by Zanu-PF finance chief David Karimanzira, Oppa Muchinguri, Nicholas Goche, Dumiso Dabengwa and Obert Mpofu. As they are all close allies of Mujuru, the probe will turn the screws on the already embattled Mnangagwa.

      Private companies have been asked to bankroll Mugabe's birthday celebrations, while each of the party's 10 provinces is expected to contribute Z$1-billion (R38 461).

      In a letter to Zanu youth, chairperson Absalom Sikhosana pleads with companies to donate and make the celebrations "historic" and "memorable for our children".

      This week, Mugabe told state broadcaster Newsnet that his doctor had told him his "bones are those of someone of 30". He said he was "grateful to the people [of Zimbabwe] for creating an environment in which I've been able to live so long".
    • Christine Chumbler
      ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17 The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by
      Message 1046 of 1046 , May 22, 2006
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        ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract

        by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17

        The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by government to look for another contractor instead of China Hunan Construction to construct of the long awaited Karonga/Chitipa road.

        China Hunan from Mainland China won the bid which was approved by the ADB but government later wanted to award the contract to a Portuguese firm, Mota Engil, the second lowest bidder, claiming China Hunan's bid was unrealistically low and that the company had very little experience in Africa.

        Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe confirmed on Sunday the ADB rejected the proposal at a meeting held between the bank and Malawi government in Tunisia last week.

        The Malawi government wanted the Tunisia meeting to authorise it to get another contractor for the road, said Gondwe.

        "They did not allow us to look for another contractor because of their regulations. But we are about to get another alternative for Karonga/Chitipa and I would be surprised if it does not start before end June," said Gondwe.

        The minister explained that the bank insisted that regardless of the unrealistic cost estimates, China Hunan should be allowed to go ahead with the construction.

        But Gondwe could not give further details about the alternatives, arguing there are still a few loose ends to tighten up before disclosing it.

        The problem with China Hunan, according to Gondwe, is that it would require more money to meet the total cost of the project.

        This paper reported last week that government met Taiwanese representatives where they offered to fund the road if the ADB continued to reject its favoured contractor, Mota Engil.

        Gondwe could neither confirm nor deny the reports on the Taiwanese offer, saying government was looking at a number of ways to handle the issue.

        According to Gondwe, the China Hunan's bid was 24 percent lower than the consulting engineers' estimates of K7.9 billion and 34 percent below the second lowest bidder.

        President Bingu wa Mutharika laid a foundation stone for the construction of the road this year ahead of a crucial byelection in Chitipa in December last year.

        The President's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the Chitipa Wenya constituency by-election that fell vacant following the collapse and subsequent death of Speaker of Parliament Rodwell Munyenyembe who belonged to the UDF.

        Last week, police and the District Commissioner (DC) for Chitipa stopped a rally that was aimed at soliciting people's views about development projects in the district.

        The meeting, which was reportedly organised by Concerned Citizens of Chitipa, was among other things also supposed to tackle the controversial Karonga/Chitipa road.

        The project failed to start off in 2000 when a contract for an initial loan of US$17 million and US$15 million from the Taiwanese government was signed, with some quarters claiming the Bakili Muluzi administration diverted the money to another road.


        Chihana operated on

        by Edwin Nyirongo, 22 May 2006 - 06:32:31

        Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Chakufwa Chihana, who is in South Africa receiving treatment, had a brain operation on Friday at Garden City Clinic, family and party officials confirmed on Sunday.

        Aford national chairman Chipimpha Mughogho said he was told by the family members that Chihana had a successful operation on Friday and was put in an intensive care unit.

        Mughogho said Chihana, who initially complained of headache, was found with a brain tumour which South African doctors removed.

        Mzimba West MP Loveness Gondwe said Aford boss condition was stable.

        "Hon. Chihana had a major operation and after that he was put in the intensive care unit but his condition is stable. I do not know where he was operated on but it had something to do with the skull," she said.

        Deputy Information Minister John Bande referred the matter to the Health Minister Hetherwick Ntaba who was reported to be in Geneva, Switzerland.

        Aford publicity secretary Norman Nyirenda said when Chihana's situation got worse, the family alerted the Office of the President and Cabinet who took him to Mwaiwathu Private Hospital.

        "The doctors at Mwaiwathu advised that he should be sent to South Africa and they even identified the doctor for him," he said.

        He said the costs are being met by the Malawi government, contradicting his earlier statement that his boss covered the cost.

        Mughogho is now in charge of the party.

        Gondwe will be a busy person when Parliament starts meeting on June 6 as she is the only Aford MP remaining.


        Pillane proposes presidential age limit

        by Emmanuel Muwamba , 22 May 2006 - 06:34:13

        A member of the DPP National Governing Council Abdul Pillane on Saturday urged members of political parties and the civil society to put an upper age limit in the Constitution for presidential candidates.

        Pillane was addressing members of political parties and civil society in Liwonde during a two-day follow up workshop to the National Conference on the Review of Constitution held in March in Lilongwe.

        "My view is that (an upper) age limit should be at 75. We have to give a chance to younger people to lead because in circumstance, when you age you become forgetful especially when sickly," said Pillane. "Overall, chances should be given to young people."

        But UDF secretary general Kennedy Makwangwala, whose party members agitated for the age limit during presentations, played the issue down.

        "I feel there is no logic to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates. If someone is 90 or 80 I don't know how that can influence the electorate not to vote for someone who is younger, I don't see any logic behind that," said Makwangwala.

        MCP participants at the workshop also vehemently objected to the proposal.

        MCP vice president Nicholas Dausi in an interview said: "There is no constitution in Africa which stipulates an upper age limit. So it would be strange in Malawi to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates."

        MDP President Kamlepo Kalua also opposed the need to have an upper age limit.

        "If we have personalities in mind that we want to discriminate against then it is unfortunate. The constitution we want to build is a guiding document for future generations and it should not bar certain individuals on the basis of grudges," he said.

        The Malawi Law Constitution Issues Paper of March 2006 says several submissions that were received put an upper presidential age limit in the Constitution.

        "It is argued that it is common sense that mental knowledge faculties tend to fail with age. As regards what the actual age limit should be the submissions are far from being agreed. The range is from 60 years to 80 years," read submissions in the Issues Paper.

        On whether MPs should double as ministers, Kalua said this should be the case.

        Makwangwala also said it is not right for MPs to serve as ministers because the Legislature, another arm of government, is reduced while the Executive branch is beefed up from another arm of government.

        "There is no separation of powers when MPs double as ministers," said Makwangwala.

        But Pillane said there is no problem for MPs to work as ministers as well, saying MPs are elected by the President.

        "One can serve both posts. There have been no problems before for people to double," said Pillane.

        The Centre for Multiparty Democracy funded the workshop through the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy.

        The objective was to come up with a collective position on the Issues Paper which will be presented to the Special Law Commission that will be constituted soon.


        Mussa hails new driving licence

        by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:58:52

        Transport and Public Works Minister Henry Mussa last week said the design of the Malawi-Sadc driving licence would guard against forgery and ensure that only skilled and legitimate drivers of particular vehicles are licensed.

        Mussa was speaking at the official launch of the licences in Lilongwe where he announced that traffic police would from July enforce speed limits and sober driving using Breathalysers which his ministry is in the process of procuring.

        The minister said financial constraints are the reason for the delay in procuring the equipment but assured that by July they would be available.

        "With the new equipment, the days of those who believe in the thrill of drink and driving are numbered," warned Mussa.

        Mussa added that with the new licence, government is optimistic that the country's roads would be safe.

        Acting Director of Road Traffic James Chirwa said the features that distinguish the new from the old licences are the Malawi national flag and a ghost image of the driver's photograph, among others.

        Those with old licences, according to Chirwa, are expected to get the new ones after the expiry of the former.


        UDF demands investigation on Kasambara

        by Rabecca Theu, 22 May 2006 - 06:30:46

        The United Democratic Front (UDF) has asked government to investigate Ralph Kasambara on allegations of abuse of office while he was attorney general.

        UDF publicity secretary Sam Mpasu told the press Sunday that the party is neither amused or saddened by the removal of the former AG but asked government to institute investigations on Kasambara.

        "Beyond the removal of the Attorney General, we now urge President Mutharika to institute investigation against Mr Kasambara into allegations that have made rounds in the public domain during the recent past. These include: Mrs Helen Singh and SS Rent-a-Car; SGS and ITS saga; ...........the use of Malawi Police Service in the arrest of three Chronicle journalists and the handling of Mrs Rubina Kawonga," said Mpasu.

        Mpasu also accused Kasambara of awarding government contracts to Lawson and Company where he was a senior partner.

        "We urge government to thoroughly investigate the former AG. We also ask government to cautiously select the new AG ," said Mpasu, who was accompanied by the party's Secretary General Kennedy Makwangwala, leader of the party in Parliament George Mtafu, chief whip Leonard Mangulama and a member of the executive Hophmally Makande.

        But Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati said UDF should give offer its advice to the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB).

        "They should advise bodies like the Anti-Corruption Bureau to conduct the investigations and why are they saying this now? Is it because Kasambara has been fired? This is not a personal issue. If they have other pressing issues they should just say so. These arguments should have come up earlier on when the said cases were happening," she said.

        Kasambara asked UDF to proceed with the mission of urging government to investigate him.

        "They can do their job. Everyone has a right to lobby for anything they want in the country. UDF has a right to do that, let them go ahead," he said.

        Kasambara was relieved of his duties as AG by the President last week. Government has not given reasons behind the removal.


        Zambia: Malawians Grab Zambian Land

        The Times of Zambia (Ndola)

        May 18, 2006

        Posted to the web May 19, 2006

        Andrew Lungu


        MALAWIANS who have encroached on both the 'no-man's' and part of the Zambian land at the Mwami border in Eastern Province have plucked out some beacons that were used in the demarcation of the border.

        The Malawians are now using the beacons as stools in their newly-established villages on Zambian land.

        Eastern Province Minister, Boniface Nkhata, said in Chipata yesterday that if the situation was not controlled urgently, Zambia would lose huge tracts of land to Malawians migrating into Zambian in large numbers.

        A check at the Zambia-Malawi border showed a number of beacons had been vandalised and new structures constructed on the 'no man's' land and a large portion of Zambian land.

        Mr Nkhata said the trend extended to many parts of the province bordering the two countries.

        "A large portion of Zambian land has been taken up by the Malawians starting from the Chama boundary up to the Mwami border.

        "The weighbridge at the Mwami border was initially in Zambia from the time both countries gained independence from Britain, but now the bridge is on Malawian soil," Mr Nkhata said.

        The minister, who is former Chama District Commissioner, said there was similar encroachment in Lundazi and Chama districts where Zambia shares a boundary with Malawi.

        He said a Malawian farmer identified as Mr Mfune had cultivated 71.5 hectares on Zambian land and employed about 265 Malawian workers.

        "Khombe Farm in Chama district in Kanyerere's area, along the Muyombe road which leads to Northern Province where this Malawian farmer has cultivated a vast land is on the Zambian territory," he said.

        Workers on the farm admitted that they were farming on Zambian soil but could not go back to Malawi because the land in that country was inadequate for cultivation.

        Mr Nkhata appealed to the ministry of Lands to urgently release money for the demarcation of the Zambia-Malawi border to avoid further land disputes between the two countries.

        Meanwhile, the Immigration Department in Livingstone has arrested a couple and another man, all Zimbabweans, for working in Zambia without permits.

        They were arrested at Gwembe village yesterday where they worked for Into Africa, a tour operating company that provides bush dinners and breakfast.

        According to the Immigration Department in Livingstone, the trio entered Zambia through the Victoria Falls border as visitors but decided to work for the company illegally.

        Last week, immigration officers arrested 10 Zimbabwean traders and six Ethiopians for entering and staying in Zambia illegally.

        The Zimbabwean traders were warned and cautioned and later released.

        The Ethiopians were arrested at Konje Guest House when they ran out of money to proceed to Botswana.



        Zim unions, MDC still plan anti-govt protests

        Harare, Zimbabwe

        22 May 2006 11:51

        Zimbabwe's biggest labour federation on Saturday threatened to call massive demonstrations against the government over poor salaries and worsening living conditions for workers in the country.

        The threats are ratcheting up pressure against President Robert Mugabe's government after similar threats by the biggest opposition party in the country, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), about two months ago.

        Speaking at the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) conference on Saturday, the labour body's president, Lovemore Matombo, said the powerful union wants the government to award workers salaries that match the country's ever-rising inflation.

        "I can assure you we will stage massive demonstrations to force them [employers] to award workers minimum salaries that tally with the poverty datum line," said Matombo.

        Matombo did not say when exactly the ZCTU would order workers to strike.

        Opposition protests

        Meanwhile, the MDC on Sunday said it will push ahead with plans for anti-government protests, saying victory in a key by-election at the weekend was a "sign the electorate supported its policies", including democratic mass resistance.

        A spokesperson of the main faction of the splintered MDC, Nelson Chamisa, said victory over Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF and a rival MDC faction in a Saturday by-election in Harare's Budiriro constituency is a sign Zimbabweans still have confidence in party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his policies.

        Tsvangirai, the founding leader of the MDC, heads the main rump of the opposition party whose candidate, Emmanuel Chisvuure, polled 7 949 votes to win the Budiriro House of Assembly seat.

        Gabriel Chaibva of the other faction of the MDC, led by prominent academic Arthur Mutambara, garnered 504 votes while Zanu-PF's Jeremiah Bvirindi polled 3 961 votes.

        "This election showed that the electorate still has confidence in the MDC [Tsvangirai-led] leadership and its policies," Chamisa told independent news service ZimOnline.

        He added: "We will now move to consolidate our position * we still believe in mass protests. Until we have attained our goals we see no reason why we should abandon [plans for protests]."

        Tsvangirai has threatened to call mass protests this winter against Mugabe and his government. He says the mass protests, whose date he is still to name, are meant to force Mugabe to relinquish power to a government of national unity to be tasked to write a new and democratic Constitution that would ensure free and fair elections held under international supervision.

        Mugabe and his government, who had hoped for victory in Budiriro to show they were recapturing urban support from a splintered MDC, have not taken idly the opposition's threats to call mass protests, with the veteran president warning Tsvangirai he would be "dicing with death" if he ever attempted to instigate a Ukraine-style popular revolt in Zimbabwe.


        In a fresh crackdown against dissension, the police last week arrested several church and civic leaders for organising public prayers and marches to mark last year's controversial home-demolition exercise by the government.

        The police also banned the marches and prayers, fearing they could easily turn into mass protests against Mugabe and his government.

        However, the marches went ahead in the second-largest city of Bulawayo after organisers had obtained a court order barring the police from stopping the march.

        Political analysts say although Zimbabweans have largely been cowed by Mugabe's tactics of routinely deploying riot police and the military to crush street protests, worsening hunger and poverty are fanning public anger that Tsvangirai -- with proper planning and organisation -- could easily manipulate.

        Zimbabwe is in the grip of a severe six-year old economic crisis that has seen inflation breaching the 1 000% barrier. Last year, the World Bank said Zimbabwe's economic crisis was unprecedented for a country not at war.

        The MDC and major Western governments blame Mugabe for wrecking the country's economy, which was one of the strongest in Africa at independence from Britain 26 years ago.

        Mugabe denies the charge blaming the crisis on sabotage by Britain and her allies after he seized white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks six years ago.

        The Harare authorities recently hiked salaries for civil servants, with the lowest-paid soldier now earning about Z$27-million while the lowest-paid school teacher now takes home about Z$33-million.

        But the salaries are still way below the poverty datum line, which the government's Consumer Council of Zimbabwe says now stands at a staggering Z$42-million a month for an average family of six.

        The Zimbabwe government often accuses the ZCTU, a strong ally of the MDC, of pushing a political agenda to remove Mugabe from power.

        Meanwhile, Matombo and Lucia Matibenga retained their posts as president and first vice-president respectively during the ZCTU congress that ended on Saturday. -- ZimOnline

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