15 February 2013

Zambia: Obituary - Crispin Sibetta - Hard-Hitting Debater

AS the country mourned more than 50 people who perished in a road traffic accident involving a Post Bus and a truck, Zambia lost a gallant man who many have been forgotten after he withdrew from public life.

The man is Crispin Sibetta who served as Luena Member of Parliament (MP) for 20 years without relenting in his fight for justice, accountability, and good governance blending humour and hard-hitting words in his debates.

Mr Sibetta, who died at 71, was opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) vice-chairperson.

He died of suspected brain tumour on Sunday at Lusaka Trust Hospital.

Mr Sibetta served as minister of State in the UNIP administration before he contested the Luena seat as an independent candidate in 1991.

In Luena Constituency, he served as independent MP for 15 years before he reclaimed his seat on the UPND ticket in 2001 and continued with his demands for good governance.

He never minced his words when it came to issues he believed Government and the former ruling party MMD were not doing right.

Interestingly, Mr Sibetta mainly practiced his politics on the floor of the House blending his debate with humour whenever there were serious matters demanding the contribution by members.

He will be remembered by many for his strong and humorous debates that raised laughter among MPs even when he was debating a serious matter.

Most times his strong debates came into conflict with the Speaker and he ended up being curtailed.

For media personnel who covered Parliament, Mr Sibetta was a 'darling' because he always gave journalists something unique and interesting to write about whenever he stood up to contribute to debate in the house.

At a time when the MMD was at its strongest, he kept reminding the former ruling party in his debates saying 'you are going' meaning the party would lose in the next elections.

Even parliamentary records show that Mr Sibetta was one of the MPs who frequently pin-pointed mistakes made by the MMD government during the time that he was an MP.

The slow and eloquent Sibetta always drew attention of his fellow MPs each time he was given chance to debate as all members expected strong criticism of MMD's wrong-doings.

In 1999, Mr Sibetta moved a private member's motion on the operations of the then Aero-Zambia airline in which he said the company's subsidiaries were flying Zambian colours without the approval of government.

Then vice-president Christon Tembo was forced to warn MPs against making false corruption allegations after Mr Sibetta said there was a lot of corruption in the privatisation programme especially of the hotels and mines.

Mr Sibetta wondered how Rainbow Lodge could have been sold at the same price as Hotel Intercontinental in Lusaka and Livingstone at US$6.5 million while Pamodzi Hotel was sold for $2.5 million.

"Clearly, there was corruption. There is no explanation for Rainbow Lodge to be sold at a higher price than Pamodzi Hotel. There is lack of transparency by Zambia Privatisation Agency," he said.

Mr Sibetta was censured by the Speaker when he alleged that Government had corruptly sold a large portion of Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines.

He also raised a point of order on why Roan Antelope Mining Corporation had employed cooks from India when there were many local chefs.

In 2001, at the height of late president Frederick Chiluba's third term debate, Mr Sibetta had his debate curtailed again when he suggested that MPs would not allow the amendment of the Constitution to allow late Dr Chiluba to contest the elections.

When the MMD government fired all medical doctors after they went on strike, Mr Sibetta was again one of the MPs who criticised the Government saying people in rural areas were the most affected.

He accused Government of paying one Cuban expatriate doctor as much as it was giving 10 Zambian doctors.

On August 13, 2003, Mr Sibetta showed his bravery when he moved an opposition-sponsored motion in Parliament to impeach late president Levy Mwanawasa on twenty allegations of abuse of office.

In September 2003 the controversial Sibetta was arrested in Lukulu for conduct likely to cause breach of peace.

Mr Sibetta in the company of other UPND supporters allegedly stormed an Electoral Commission of Zambia meeting and forcibly grabbed the assistants' roll, insisting that his party wanted to change the official list of polling assistants.

Later the opposition MP made various controversial contributions in the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) and frequently warned of confusion if the process was not inclusive of people's views.

Commenting on Mr Sibbeta's death UPND spokesperson Charles Kakoma said Zambia had been robbed of a vibrant and fearless politician.

Mr Kakoma said the former MP would be remembered for his fearless debates in Parliament while his deputy Cornelius Mweetwa said Mr Sibetta's death was a blow to the party and the nation.

Mr Mweetwa said the former parliamentarian was a reservoir of political experience and knowledge.

"This is a huge blow to us as the UPND.

Mr Sibetta was a source of experience and reservoir of political knowledge. We are saddened on his death," Mr Mweetwa said.

Former NCC spokesperson Mwangala Zaloumis recalls how fearless Mr Sibetta was when making his contributions during debates on the Draft Constitution.

"For him the Constitution making process was beyond partisan lines and what mattered was the future of the nation," Ms Zaloumis said.

Chief Government spokesperson Kennedy Sakeni described the late former MP as a reservoir of wisdom.

He said Mr Sibetta contributed immensely to Zambia's democracy and development during the many years he served as a parliamentarian.

Mr Sakeni who is Information and Broadcasting Services Minister said Mr Sibetta had left behind an indelible footprint of fearless and selfless service to the nation which people should emulate.

"His death is unbearable coming as it has, when the nation is still filled with pain and sorrow following the death of more than 50 people in a Post Bus Road traffic accident.

The minister said Mr Sibetta's great sense of humour and intelligent contributions to debates in Parliament were a source of great inspiration to the people of Zambia.

"On behalf of the Government and on my own behalf, I convey heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family on this sad and untimely loss," Mr Sakeni said.

Veteran journalist and Reuters Zambia Bureau correspondent Chris Mfula who covered Mr Sibetta in Parliament for many years described him as humble and a rich source of information.

"He was a charismatic and exciting MP who drew attention of his fellow members and journalists whenever he got chance to debate," he said.

Mr Mfula said that MPs are paid sitting allowances but Mr Sibetta liked standing up to attract the speaker's attention so that he could be accorded chance to debate.

He said that the former MP liked to follow debates in the house going by the several supplementary q

uestions he raised on many issues.

Indeed Mr Sibetta's contribution to Zambia's democratic governance speaks volumes and it's up to the current and future crop of political leaders to follow his footsteps and make a difference.

According to family spokesperson Martin Sibetta, the former MP was born on June 6, 1941 at Sitoya Village in Chief Sibetta's village.

He started his education at Sitoya Primary School before he proceeded to Saint Canicius Secondary School and after he completed his education he worked in Government as a labour inspector.

Mr Sibetta later joined Standard Chartered Bank in the human resource department where he rose to become one of the first black bank managers.

After leaving the banking sector he started farming and became Zambia National Farmers Union vice-president and later he joined politics in the UNIP regime.

Four children and a wife survive him.

Words cannot bring him back to life. Rest in peace 'Honourable Crispin Sibetta'.

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