PROBE - BARELY weeks after being questioned over suspected tender irregularities in the Commerce ministry, Minister Protais Mitali, has been hit by fresh allegations that he bought his way to becoming Liberal Party (PL) president.
A party member, Emmanuel Uwimana, alleged on Thursday that Mitali used businessman Janvier Burahangwa to buy voters.
“Burahangwa brought two million francs in cash and a cheque worth three million to me. He told me it was from Mitali and he wanted me to distribute it to voters,” Uwimana claimed.
But Mitali yesterday said that Uwimana’s allegations are baseless and unfounded.
“We have instituted a probe committee to investigate all rigging allegations,” the Commerce minister said.
Party general elections were held on August 5 but some party members petitioned Mitali afterwards, protesting the manner in which the polls were conducted.
Uwimana insists that top leaders of the party used money to win the voters’ hearts.
Recently, Mitali was summoned by the office of the Prosecutor General in connection with awarding a fuel tender without following normal procedures in the Ministry of Commerce, Investment Promotion, Tourism and Cooperatives (Minicom).
On the alleged bribe to voters, Uwimana charged: “We rejected his offer (read bribe) because we wanted elections to be free and fair.”
Burahangwa who members alleged Mitali used to distribute the money is a cousin to Senator Odette Nyiramirimo.
Nyiramirimo was voted the Party’s first vice president.
Those disputing the elections claim the money was given out to voters on August 4 and 5 at Red Cross offices in Kacyiru where party members were camping.
In a letter dated August 10, five party members allege that Nyaramirimo was distributing money, persuading the voters to elect Mitali instead of MP Polycape Gatete.
Gatete was Mitali’s only rival for the party presidency.
In the seven-page letter, the claimants allege that Mitali promised if elected to pay back some of his voters by giving them jobs in Minicom.
They also accuse PL Southern Province president and MP Henrietta Sebera of bribing voters. When contacted, Sebera declined to comment.
Interestingly, among the signatories of the letter is Party Treasurer, MP Elie Ngirabakunzi.
Others are MP Isaie Murashi, PL vice president for Southern Province, Dr Laurien Nyabyenda and Emmanuel Musabyimana, the party’s president in Kicukiro Sector in Kigali.
Addressing the press at Alpha Palace Hotel in Remera, Mitali said the protesting letter was written without following procedures laid out in the party’s statute.
He said any election challenge is supposed to be lodged within three days after elections, beyond which any claim is considered null and void.
He said such a petition should be filed to the returning officer for the elections, and not him, as was done in the aforementioned case.
Party member and employee of the Local Government ministry, Oswald Burasanzwe was the returning officer.
Mitali had first attempted to stop Ngirabakunzi who was seated next to him from speaking, but had to bow to journalists’ repeated requests.
But while Ngirabakunzi maintained that he still believes in the content of the letter, he fell short of pinning Mitali in front of journalists.
“I believe in the freedom of expression, and in this vein, I still stand by my signature,” he said.
But Ngirabakunzi could not categorically respond with a ‘yes’ when asked whether he thought Mitali bribed voters.
The disgruntled members were particularly angered by the minister’s previous statement in The New Times that the elections were free and fair.
They asked him to retract his statement.
The conference was also addressed by the party’s second vice president Francois Byabarumwanzi, who is also the mayor of Ruhango District in the Southern Province. Byabarumwanzi backed Mitali throughout the conference.