22 September 2009

Tanzania: Mramba, Yona Case Full Hearing Today

The full hearing of the abuse of office case facing two former cabinet ministers, Messrs Basil Mramba and Daniel Yona and retired permanent secretary, Mr Gray Mgonja, starts today.

The stage has been set after last week's completion of the preliminary hearing of the case. The prosecution informed the Kisutu Resident Magistrate's Court in Dar es Salaam that it intends to call a maximum of 25 witnesses to testify against the former government officials.

Messrs Mramba and Yona served in the third phase government as Finance as well as Energy and Minerals ministers respectively. Both have been charged along with Mr Mgonja with abuse of office which occasioned a loss of over Sh11.7 billion to the Government.

At first Messrs Mramba and Yona were charged together, but after some days Mr Mgonja was also charged separately with similar offences before the cases were joined later.

They appeared before the court after three years of investigations by the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB) and the police

into the suspicious hiring of Alex Stewart (Assayers) Government Business Corporation to audit gold production in Tanzania.

The firm was controversially assigned in 2003 through a contract which saw it receive a whopping Sh65 billion ($50 million). It completed its job and left in August 2007. Alex Stewart (Assayers) Government Business Corporation was paid an average of Sh1.3 billion ($1million) every month from June 2003 to August 2007.

The lucrative deal for the foreign company sparked off public outcry with politicians of opposition political parties and activists accusing the Government of letting the firm take a chunk of what the country earned in royalties from gold. During the hearing the prosecution also intends to submit several exhibits, including the caution statement recorded by the two former ministers.

They are alleged to have confessed to abusing their offices before interrogators.

According to the prosecution, both former ministers allegedly made the confessions during interrogations when they admitted that they were

involved in granting the tax exemption to Alex Stewart (Assayers) Government Business Corporation, an act which caused the said loss of revenue to the Government.

During the preliminary hearing state attorney Fredrick Manyanda asked the court to admit the statements as exhibits of the case but defence attorneys for the two accused, Mr Herbert Nyange and Prof Leonard Shaidi, objected.

The advocates, however, admitted that their clients were interrogated by the PCCB and gave statements, but denied the confession.

In order to avoid controversies, the panel of magistrates hearing the case, led by resident magistrate John Utamwa, requested the prosecution to produce the statements during the full hearing of the case when a witness will testify on them.

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