24 Aug 2009

EITHER ex-prime minister Edward Lowassa or ex-attorney general Andrew Chenge were on the short list to take over the Speaker’s seat in the National Assembly had the attempted ouster of incumbent Samwel Sitta succeeded last week, THISDAY can reveal today.

According to a senior Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) official privy to details of the reported plotting and scheming during last week’s high-level CCM meetings in Dodoma, a good number of ruling party regional branch chairmen had been "compromised" to push for either of the two ex-government leaders to assume the Speakership after Sitta’s envisaged ejection.

It has been confirmed that the entire plan to remove Sitta and put in place a smooth replacement system was hatched and finalized during a series of secret meetings in Dodoma, Dar es Salaam and Mbeya ahead of the Dodoma meetings involving CCM’s central committee and national executive committee (NEC).

”The plotters not only sought Sitta’s removal as Speaker and expulsion from the party...they also took it a step further and earmarked who exactly should immediately replace him (as Speaker),
” the CCM official, also a NEC member, said.

He continued: ”The names that came up were Lowassa or Chenge. But would either of them have actually agreed to have their names nominated for election as Speaker, had the plot to remove Sitta succeeded? Of that I am not sure.”

It is also unclear if either Lowassa or Chenge were even aware that they were in line to replace Sitta at short notice, if it had come to that.

Lowassa was forced to resign from the post of prime minister in February last year, after being heavily implicated by a parliamentary team probing the infamous Richmond power generation scandal.

Hardly a couple of months later, Chenge - the country’s attorney-general for ten years until 2005, and thereafter a senior Cabinet minister - was similarly compelled to quit his government position after being named as an official suspect in the radar deal corruption investigation.

While both have yet to be formally charged with criminal wrongdoing, they remain active as members of both the parliamentary backbench and the various CCM caucuses.

Apart from Lowassa and Chenge, another name floated as a potential replacement for Sitta is the incumbent deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Anna Makinda, who political insiders say is seen as more inclined to ”defend CCM interests” in parliament.

The Speakership of the National Assembly is seen as a powerful and pivotal post within the ruling party and the national political scenario as a whole.

As such, according to various CCM insiders, Sitta’s continued occupation of that post and anti-corruption stance represents a perceived large thorn in the flesh of a powerful group of corrupt politicians with vast personal business interests, who more or less control the party at will through its secretariat.

According to one ruling party insider speaking to THISDAY:"These politicians are now desperate to also control the parliament...and they regard the removal of Sitta as a key necessity towards that goal.”

The said group of politicians is believed to number about five or six, most of them incumbent members of parliament whose public images have in recent years become heavily tainted by serious allegations of grand corruption.

”They want to use the Bunge to clean up their own battered images, so that they emerge smelling like roses ahead of next year’s general elections,” said another CCM insider.

According to THISDAY findings, the plot to remove Sitta from the post of Speaker is understood to have involved large sums of money exchanging hands within the CCM-NEC ranks.

It is also understood that party leaders at various levels within mainland Tanzania were targeted to be roped in, while emissaries were also dispatched to Zanzibar to garner similar CCM grassroots leadership support for the plot over there.

Sources say some NEC members received between 3m/- and 5m/- "to ensure that the plan to get rid of Sitta succeeded."

Speaker Sitta was on Saturday accorded a hero’s welcome on returning to his Urambo parliamentary constituency in the wake of the failed plot to oust him. He vowed to soldier on with his work in the National Assembly, to ensure greater transparency and accountability in government.



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