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May 13, 2008
Revealed: Chenge named in Bunge hall commotion


Dar es Salaam

THE former minister for infrastructure development, Andrew Chenge, and a senior parliament officer are at the centre of reports of odd happenings at the National Assembly that have sparked allegations of a possible poison attack or voodoo rituals inside the Bunge hall in Dodoma.

Chenge’s name has been repeatedly mentioned in parliamentary circles since last week after reports surfaced suggesting that one MP and a Bunge official were involved in suspicious movements at night inside the Bunge chamber when parliament was not in session.

While some lawmakers expressed concern that the incident could possibly be linked to a poison attack or black magic rituals against certain MPs, others said there was nothing sinister about the whole affair.

The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) national publicity secretary, Capt. (rtd) John Chiligati, dropped a strong hint on Sunday about the possible identity of the lawmaker behind the reported dodgy movements inside the Bunge hall.

Falling short of directly mentioning Chenge’s name, Chiligati said the MP being referred to in the poison/voodoo reports was actually a former frontbencher who was seen moving around the Bunge hall trying to pick a new seat on the backbench that he will now have to occupy after losing his ministerial post.

In the official Bunge set-up, seats for Cabinet ministers and their deputies are reserved on the front benches in the National Assembly hall, with other lawmakers taking the back seats.

Chenge has been a permanent fixture on the frontbench for the past 13 years, having served as Attorney General throughout former President Benjamin Mkapa’s administration (1995-2005) and later appointed in President Jakaya Kikwete’s successive cabinets from 2006 until April this year when he was forced to quit.

The ex-minister resigned from Cabinet after being linked to an international corruption investigation into the 70bn/- military radar scandal.

Several MPs separately told THISDAY that Chenge and the Parliamentary Director of Table Office, Japhet Sagasii, were allegedly spotted on Tuesday night inside the Bunge hall while parliament was not in session.

While Chenge and Sagasii were allegedly inside the House chamber at around 8.10pm, other CCM lawmakers had gathered elsewhere for a parliamentary caucus meeting for ruling party MPs.

According to Chiligati, the former Cabinet minister (whom he did not name) had decided to locate a vacant seat at night while parliament was not in session to avoid inconveniencing other MPs during parliamentary proceedings.

However, when contacted yesterday by THISDAY, Chenge declined to make any comment about the allegations when asked direct questions on whether or not he was indeed involved in suspicious movements inside the Bunge hall.

On the other hand, Sagasii denied any involvement in the alleged incident with Chenge inside the National Assembly chamber.

’’I don’t know anything about these reports ... I have never been asked or questioned by anybody and have nothing to say,’’ the senior parliament officer told THISDAY by phone from Dodoma.

The Speaker of the National Assembly, Samwel Sitta, yesterday sought to allay the fears of lawmakers about reports that an unknown poison could have been released in the Bunge hall to target certain MPs.

’’Security officers have done a thorough job in sweeping through the entire National Assembly hall and assured me on Saturday that this hall is safe and secure in every sense,’ he announced in parliament yesterday morning after the customary morning prayers immediately after the day’s official parliamentary proceedings began.

Sitta said he was informed by the Clerk of the National Assembly on Thursday last week that one of the security cameras in the parliament buildings had caught two people entering the Bunge hall on Tuesday night involved in suspicious movements.

’’One of these people was apparently seen throwing something inside the Bunge hall,’’ he said.

The Speaker explained that after the Kyela MP, Dr Harrison Mwakyembe, suddenly fell ill inside parliament buildings, he officially reported the matter to the Tanzania Intelligence and Security Service (TISS) and the Tanzania Police Force.

’’On Friday last week, security officers made a thorough check of the entire parliamentary buildings and assured me that everything was okay,’’ he said.

Sitta said he was compelled to report the matter to security agencies following fears that a modern (undetectable) poisonous substance could have been released in the Bunge hall.

He said an official investigation was underway, with security officers currently going through a painstaking process of analysing 72 hours of recordings from Bunge’s surveillance cameras to establish who was really involved and what actually transpired.

’’At the moment, we are treating this reported incident as speculation until the investigation is concluded. However, all necessary precautions are being taken to ensure the safety of members of parliament,’’ he said.

The Dodoma Regional Police Commander, Omar Mganga, confirmed to THISDAY that several people had already been questioned by investigators in connection with the incident.

However, he declined to reveal the names of officials who had so far been interviewed by investigators.

The Kigoma North MP, Zitto Kabwe (CHADEMA), has expressed concern that the incident could be more than just a simple matter of voodoo rituals, but possibly an outright attempt to poison someone or some people in the House.

According to Zitto, the incident could even be directly linked to the sudden sickness that has apparently befallen Mwakyembe.

Mwakyembe was chairman of the Bunge committee that probed the Richmond power generation scandal and delivered a scathing report that led to the resignation of former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa and two senior cabinet ministers, Nazir Karamagi and Dr Ibrahim Msabaha.

The Kyela MP and other members of the committee are already on record as having publicly declared that they received death threats during the course of the probe. Mwakyembe’s current whereabouts and health condition remain somewhat of a mystery
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