Mitali queried again
BY JAMES MUNYANEZA
Commerce Minister Protais Mitali was yesterday interrogated for the second time in less than a month in connection with corruption accusations. He was quizzed for about two hours by the Nyarugenge prosecution, Kigali.
The interrogation was conducted by prosecutor Richard Muhumuza at Kimihurura in the office of Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga, who is on leave.
Mitali is suspected to have had a hand in irregularities surrounding various tenders conducted with his blessing in his capacity as minister of Commerce, Industry, Investment Promotion, Tourism and Cooperatives.
However, the minister declined to disclose what he had been questioned about.
“I have always told you that I am not willing to discuss things that are still under investigation,” Mitali told The New Times outside the Prosecutor General’s office shortly after the two-hour grilling yesterday.
Mitali’s probe came into the spotlight last week after reports emerged that he was questioned last month by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), which has since forwarded the case to the prosecution.
Yesterday’s interrogation started at around 4 p.m. until about 6 p.m.
Muhumuza also refrained from discussing his questions to the minister and the latter’s responses. “Files that are under probe are not open to the press,” he said, after he emerged from the interrogation room. The minister emerged first from the building, and was followed by Muhumuza about five minutes later.
Mitali, who was appointed the Commerce minister in March 2006 after serving briefly as State minister for Industry and Investment Promotion, is accused of authorising tenders without due respect to the law, according to both CID and the Prosecution General’s office.
Also under investigation in the same case are the ministry’s Secretary General Justin Nsengiyumva, the Director of Planning and Chairman of the internal tender committee, Felicien Murenzi and the in-charge of government petroleum transactions in the ministry, Robert Opirah.
The trio has already been quizzed by both the CID and the Prosecutor General’s office.
Meanwhile, highly placed sources close to the investigations disclosed that the tenders in question were worth a whopping $8 million (approximately Frw4.4 billion).
The tenders were reportedly meant to curtail a fuel crisis that the country was experiencing at the time.
Mitali, who is also the president of the Liberal Party, is said to have signed documents authorising importation of fuel worth an amount of money that the ministry has no capacity to handle.
The ministry is not supposed to commission tenders valued beyond Frw50 million, according to Murenzi. Such big tenders are legally supposed to be conducted by the National Tender Board (NTB).
Sources say that in his defence, the minister argues that the tenders in question were awarded in an emergency situation, thus there was not enough time to forward the tenders to the NTB.
“The NTB itself does handle tenders that are urgent. Even then, the minister should have consulted the Cabinet before making such big decisions,” a source said.
However, Mitali said last week that some of the things he was being questioned about happened before he became the minister. Asked whether investigations may be extended to Nshuti’s predecessor James Musoni (now Finance minister), the Deputy Prosecutor General, Alphonse Hitiyaremye said: “If we find out that we need to do it, why not? We are not restricted during investigations.”
Asked why Mitali had been re-summoned for questioning despite having recorded a statement with CID, Hitiyaremye said: “During inquires, we can summon you as many times as we deem necessary.
That happens especially when new information has been obtained.” He was speaking during an exclusive interview moments before Mitali’s arrival for questioning. Hitiyaremye however still declined to discuss details of the case.
“What is important to know is that it is possible there were a number of irregularities committed within the ministry,” he said, adding that investigations so far indicate that the anomalies were committed both during the tendering procedures and management of government petroleum reserves.