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  • Christine Chumbler
    Opposition want audit of K13bn used for relief maize by George Ntonya , 06 April 2006 - 06:38:38 The opposition has demanded an audit of the K13 billion the
    Message 1 of 1046 , Apr 6, 2006
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      Opposition want audit of K13bn used for relief maize
      by George Ntonya , 06 April 2006 - 06:38:38
      The opposition has demanded an audit of the K13 billion the government says used to buy maize to cushion the hunger situation in the country.
      Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday in response to President Bingu wa Mutharika's address to the nation made when he opened the four-week sitting of the House, leader of opposition John Tembo and leader of UDF in the House George Nga Mtafu said they want government to indicate the quantity of maize it bought and its cost, how that maize was distributed and the level of contribution from the development partners.
      "How much maize did we import? How much did we receive from the donors and how much was distributed?" Tembo asked, adding that the government should not run away from providing figures on the issue. "We need an audit report."
      On his part, Mtafu told the House that the figures President Mutharika presented did not match with the reality on the ground considering that maize, for free distribution or sale in Admarc depots, was scarce throughout the country.
      Mutharika told the nation that government, in collaboration with the donor community, bought 335,000 metric tonnes of maize, part of which was distributed for free to nearly 4.8 million people.
      "These figures don't reflect the true picture," Mtafu said.
      Tembo, who is president of the main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), also demanded a progress report on the controversial Karonga-Chitipa Road and the Masasa-Golomoti-Monkey Bay Road which has been abandoned by the contractor.
      He urged the Ministry of Transport and Public Works to issue a statement on the two roads.
      "Why are you silent. What is delaying the projects?" Tembo queried.
      Parliament authorised government to borrow money from the African Development Bank (ADB) for the Karonga-Chitipa Road about four years ago when UDF was in power but construction has not started yet.
      When Mutharika took over from Bakili Muluzi, Minister of Transport and Public Works Henry Mussa indicated construction would commence towards the end of 2005.
      Mutharika laid a foundation stone in December to mark the beginning of the project.
      Commenting on MPs who were in opposition but have now joined the government side in Parliament, Tembo said that he hoped such MPs were genuine and honest with the people who elected them.

      *****

      Govt cheated ADB on Karonga-Chitipa Road
      by Mabvuto Banda, 06 April 2006 - 06:54:02
      Government gave the African Development Bank (ADB) a revised budget on the construction of the Karonga-Chitipa Road to convince the institution to engage an Italian firm*Mota Engil, which was the second lowest bidder for the contract, The Nation has learnt.
      But Minister of Transport and Public Works Henry Mussa has denied the allegation.
      Last week Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe told The Nation that government was waiting for permission from the ADB to allow it to engage Mota Engil instead of a Mainland China firm China Hunan which was earlier awarded the contract.
      But some technical experts, who sat on the tender evaluation panel, confided in The Nation on Wednesday that China Hunan was awarded the contract on a K5.5 billion budget and not the revised K7.9 billion that went to ADB.
      "China Hunan bid was K5.3 billion, which was 5 percent less the total budget and because it was the lowest and within budget, they won the tender. Mota-Engil was K8.3 billion which was over 60 percent over the budget," said one of the experts.
      According to bid documents, China Hunan were the lowest at K5.2 billion followed by Mota-Engil at K7.9 billion and the highest was Italian firm*CMC di Ravenna S.C.A.R.L at K8.3 billion.
      On Wednesday Mussa dismissed claims that government revised the budget to justify why they wanted to engage Mota-Engil.
      "How does one think that we revised the budget? It's not possible because this was the market price according to our consulting engineers Roughton Engineers who pegged it at K7.9 billion and this falls within the ADB budget. How can one revise that?" Mussa asked.
      "After 41 years, it's only President Mutharika's government that has made it a priority to construct this road. Had Malawi been a rich country we could have constructed the road sometime back but we are poor and are dictated to," he said.
      Mussa said that government is trying to avoid what happened to the Golomoti Road which was abandoned by a South African firm because government gave them the contract based on their low bid and the contractor failed to finish the project.
      The ADB in December last year, Nation learnt, told government to go ahead with the award to China Hunan after it passed a technical evaluation but government made a U-turn and started negotiations with the ADB to allow it engage the second lowest bidder.
      According to documents in our possession, the President sent a delegation lead by Mussa to the ADB in January to request the Bank to allow Malawi to discuss with the second lowest bidder instead of China Hunan.
      The visit was followed-up with a letter from Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe to ADB President Donald Keburuka on January 31, 2006
      In the letter Gondwe explained that the tender by China Hunan was "unrealistic" because it was 27 percent lower than the engineers' estimate of 7.9 billion "and 34 percent below the second lowest bidder is deemed too low to successfully implement the project."
      On March 22, 2006, the ADB told government that it would be ready with an answer in a week or so. But todate, that answer has not been given.
      Sources say the Bank is not happy because it has not seen any reason why government should realise now that China Hunan has no capacity.
      Insiders say government is under pressure from Taiwan which is said to be protesting why the contract has gone to a company from Mainland China. Taiwan earlier pumped in US$15 million into the project.
      In 2000 when the project was signed with an initial loan of US$17 million and US$15 million from the Taiwanese government , the Bakili Muluzi administration failed to kickstart it and claims have been that the money was diverted to another road.
      The Bank suspended the project and asked the Muluzi government to source US$41 million before they could release more money.
      Because of the delay from 2000 to start work, it is believed that government is paying commitment fees to ADB at a rate of 0.5 percent for any undisbursed amount. Gondwe denied this claim.
      Meanwhile, people in Chitipa and Karonga have given government a deadline of July to start the construction of the 103 km road or face mass action.
      The Karonga-Chitipa Road is believed to have the potential of contributing towards regional integration between Malawi and Zambia. If constructed it would also ease accessibility and mobility problems in the district to markets and social economic facilities.

      *****

      ACB probes illegal plots
      by Bright Sonani, 06 April 2006 - 07:12:53
      The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has said it was conducting parallel investigations on allegations of corrupt practices in relation to allocations of plots in urban areas of the country.
      Ministry of Lands two weeks ago announced that after a review of the illegal developments, Cabinet Committee on Illegal Developments made a directive that some of the structures have to be demolished and others stopped while some developers have to pay a fine.
      ACB Public Relations Officer Egrita Ndala said that the bureau was also investigating the illegal plots to establish whether corruption took place or not in the allocation of the said plots.
      Some of the developments the Cabinet Committee made a directive on include Keza Office Park in Blantyre which was previously owned by former head of state Bakili Muluzi, Petroda Filling Station on Blantyre-Chileka Road, Petroda House in Lilongwe, Pirate Casino Hotel, a residential building in Area 10 and Falcons Hotel also in Lilongwe.
      Ndala could not name the plots and structures under probe for fear of jeorpadising the investigations.
      "The investigation is still being conducted and it would not be proper to divulge the findings at this point as this can jeopardise investigations," she added.
      Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Lands George Mkondiwa said two weeks ago that Cabinet reviewed all the developments which were under dispute and made a determination and directive.
      According to Mkondiwa, the residential structure in Area 10 which was built at a site reserved for business developments was to be demolished, while Keza Office Park and Petroda Filling Station in Blantyre were referred to Blantyre City Assembly for appropriate action.
      He said the Pirate Casino Hotel, which had just started on the New State House road in Lilongwe, Falcon Hotel near Maula Parish in the same city were stopped and the owners for Petroda House in Area 14, Lilongwe were ordered to pay fine.

      *****

      Goba's K50m drug case fails to kick off
      by Emmanuel Muwamba, 06 April 2006 - 07:08:22
      A case in which Blantyre-based businessman Bashir Hassan Goba is expected to answer for being found in possession of government drugs worth about K50 million failed to start Wednesday because the State was not ready.
      Scores of people thronged the Dalton Magistrate Court before 9 am to witness the proceedings.
      But a Limbe Police prosecutor told The Nation that the Director of Public Prosecution Ishmael Wadi has taken over the case.
      Wadi said in an interview yesterday: "My instructions have been made to the Deputy State Advocate in Blantyre to take up the matter. Ask her she will tell you when the case goes to court."
      Deputy State Advocate in the Blantyre office Primrose Chimwaza confirmed taking up the matter but said she only received the case file yesterday and needed enough time to study it.
      She said the suspect will appear in court on Monday afternoon.
      Meanwhile, Chimwaza could not say whether another case in which four pharmacists*two from Chiradzulu and the other two from Mulanje*arrested for failing to account for drugs under their control, will be brought to court on Friday.
      The four are Prince Winga and Kenneth Kazado from Mulanje District Hospital and Stanford Miyango and Christina Mwinjiwa from Chiradzulu District Hospital.
      They were arrested because drugs found in Goba's warehouses had labels from the two district hospitals.
      Chimwaza said she is yet to decide whether she will charge all the five together.
      "We'll see if they will appear in court on Friday but I am looking at the possibility of charging them together," said Chimwaza.
      Goba was arrested a fortnight ago in connection with over K50 million worth of government drugs which were found in his three warehouses.
      The court refused to grant him bail because the State said investigations were still underway.
      Malawi Pharmacy and Poisons Board Registrar Wynn Chalira described the drug bust as the biggest in the country.

      *****

      Bank sues 2 ministers
      by Olivia Kumwenda, 06 April 2006 - 06:56:37
      The NBS Bank has dragged to court Education Minister Kate Kainja-Kaluluma and Deputy Agriculture Minister Henry Mumba, claiming about K1,176.089.20 and K2,926,240.78 from them respectively, after the two failed to service loans they got from the institution.
      Court records show that Kainja-Kaluluma on 30th June 1990 got a K95,000 loan from the bank which she agreed to repay by equal monthly instalments, both the principal and interest*pegged at 16.75 percent.
      The records indicate that by 13th January 2006, the loan balance was K3,521,746.96 and that Kainja-Kaluluma had repaid K1,600,000.
      "The defendant has not paid the balance of the said loan amounting to K1,176,089.20 or any interest thereon and the same remains due and owing by her to plaintiff and the plaintiff claims payment of the said sum, interest on the said sum, and K528,262,04 plus interest being legal collection costs," partly reads the statement claim.
      On Mumba, the records indicate that on 31st January 2001, the bank agreed to lend him the sum of K750,000 which he agreed to repay by equal monthly instalments both the principal and interest at the rate of 38 percent.
      "The defendant neglected or refused to service the said loan account, consequent upon by 13th January 2006 the loan balance was K2,926,240.78. The defendant has not paid the balance of the said loan and the plaintiff claims payment of the said sum, interest of the said sum, and K438,936.12 plus interest being legal collection costs," partly reads the statement.
      According to the summons, the two are expected to reply within 14 days after the service of the summons which were filed in court on 28th March 2006.
      But Mumba in an interview Wednesday said he is surprised with the case as a similar one is already in court.
      "Those people, I don't know what they want because I offered to pay the whole amount last year but somehow they wanted to sell my house and I challenged it in the High Court where I won, and when I was about to pay the money, they appealed against the High Court ruling and as I am speaking now the case is still in court," said Mumba.
      He said he is not going to challenge the case in the High Court as he is waiting for the appeal case in the Supreme Court and that he is ready to pay the money which he owes the bank and not what the bank is demanding which includes legal costs.
      Kainja-Kaluluma could not be reached for comment.
    • 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.

        Crackdown

        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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