Recently, and perhaps up till now, there has been a storm, or to be precise, there is still a storm raging in the Liberal Party (PL), with Protais Mitali at the centre of it.
His colleagues particularly accuse him of being high handed and expelling them from the party. The expelled include Elie Ngirabakunzi, Isaie Murashi and Dr Laurien Nyabyenda. Others are Emmanuel Uwimana and Emmanuel Musabyimana.
The five accuse Mitali of ignoring complaints in the party and piling blame on the outgoing committee among three of whom were expelled immediately Mitali became the president.
“We had a lot of problems before the elections and some of them were financial. As a treasurer of the party, I reported the problems to the executive committee but the bureau did not do anything to resolve them,” says Ngirabakunzi.
The President of the party, Minister Protais Mitali, has the obligation to settle issues and highlight the inside problems to the entire party for resolutions but he has not done so, Ngirabakunzi begins.
The inside story
Early 2003, a few months before the first ever democratic presidential elections, PL top brass organized themselves to find way of fundraising for the election. On top of that, every member was supposed to pay a monthly contribution.
“We agreed on a fixed monthly fee for everyone,” Ngirabakunzi says.
For members who earned more than Frw1million (US$3000) and above every month, were supposed to contribute Frw30, 000 (US$55) and for those below a million would contribute Frw20, 000 (US$37). The figure was to decrease according to each one’s monthly earnings.
By the time this contribution standard was agreed on, Mitali was an MP so he automatically fell into the first category because of his monthly earning.
After the elections of 2003, many members especially from the executive committee did not pay the contribution fee. That was the end of contributions from most of the members until recently, when party elections took place which blew a lid off the can.
Mitali had too defaulted and accumulated unpaid up contributions to the tune of Frw1.5millon. Ngirabakunzi is Mitali’s successor; Mitali was the treasurer before the 2003 elections.
Because of this crisis, the party became dormant during the four year period until recently, when there were general party elections across the country. The party coffers ran empty because money had been spent and yet no more contributions came in.
“Actually, members of the executive committee were asked to contribute up to Frw1million and others exceeded that,” the treasurer said adding.
“But as I talk, since then (4years), majority of them did not only fail to contribute that special money but also have unpaid up monthly contributions.”
After handing over to Ngirabakunzi, “Mitali, among others, stopped paying the fee for the last four years,” Ngirabakunzi said.
Because of the insistence of treasurer to remind everyone to pay the other money they had promised to contribute, Mitali issued a checque of Frw900, 000, which bounced.
“As a treasurer, I warned everyone and I insisted in the general meetings every time that we were running bankrupt requesting the committee to remind debtors to pay,” Ngirabakunzi stresses.
Normally, internal party rules and regulations state that anyone with a debt is restricted from both voting and contesting for any party post. Therefore, Ngirabakunzi says, Mitali was not allowed to vote or contest for any post unless he had cleared the debt first.
“But because he was going to contest, he rushed and paid up the debt two days before the elections,” embattled Ngirabakunzi notes. This, according to Ngirabakunzi, is a disease that has eaten up the entire party.
“This is not good behavior and whenever I tried to talk about it, everyone among the executive committee would become angry with me and I looked like an enemy because I kept reminding them to clear their debts,” Ngirabakunzi laments.
Among the thirty four executive members, Ngirabakunzi says, five are elected to head the bureau. These are supposed to be exemplary but surprisingly, they do not respect even the laws they signed themselves.
Ngirabakunzi says as treasurer, he devised means of an open way to give out money for campaigns. The party was supposed to facilitate every contestant in the campaign.
“I had built a structural system up to the provinces of how to account for the funds given to candidates,” Ngirabakunzi explains.
According to Ngirabakunzi, the whole move was to avoid politicians going with money when they are campaigning and mobilizing for votes.
Only technical people (special treasurers) would follow the politician and then provide money for whatever was needed.
This system also, he says, was a measure to avoid corruption and other irregularities.
“We did not want politicians to have money to give to people who would meet in the campaign,” adding that it would be considered as ‘corrupting voters.
Before the elections, everyone was informed of the system and a task force was created and headed by a person (Technician) who would make a report after elections to account for the money given to a certain candidate; whether elected or not.
During the meeting with all executive committee members, the instruction was not discussed or endorsed by all. When the treasurer notified everyone about the structure, no one objected.
“They all kept silent but the implication was negative because most of them were angry,” Ngirabakunzi said.
On top of the party facilitation, the government provides a particular fund for each party to carryout elections. Ngirabakunzi says, as treasurer, he was obliged to give the money to every candidate and until he was expelled from the party, no one had provided accountability.
“First of all, most of the candidates had not cleared their debts, secondly they were violating the system of the use of campaign funds given to them,” Ngirabakunzi notes.
It is only the Northern Province that executed the system because says Ngirabakunzi said. It is against this background therefore that the expelled members and other many of the ordinary members claim corruption and other irregularities.
New committee with guilty hands
The treasurer says before any of the candidates could launch the campaign, the candidate had to be blessed by him.
“I had to give a clearance first that he or she had no debt and only five among all had been cleared including Mitali, who had paid two days before the elections,” Ngirabakunzi says.
But because some were not ‘blessed’ and went ahead to violate the rules of being elected without authorisation, they were probably not in good relations with the treasurer and other members who respect party rules.
At last some of those who violated rules were elected.
During the last meeting of the congress, Mitali is alleged to have paid for one of the two candidates who paid at the last moment. And that is how the new team ended up holding power but after failing to account for over Frw12million.
During the handover, Ngirabakunzi highlighted the whole issue and mentioned that even though the new leadership had taken over, they had to acknowledge that they flouted party rules.
These waged war against Ngirabakunzi who had not want them to contest because they not cleared their debts. A few days, after the elections, various members wrote complaining of election irregularities.
These letters had to be addressed to the committee that was going to handover because it was still active. The committee received a lot of letters highlighting corruption among other issues raised.
Nothing was done until the handover. After the handover, all the issues raised were forwarded to the new team, now headed by Mitali.
“He threw away everything because he was affected and more particularly because the letters were implicatioating him in the corruption claims.”
“Mitali who was the president of the task force, intimidated and stopped, Dr. Rorient Nyabyenda, one of the candidates, to contest and he (Nyabyenda) wrote a letter complaining after the elections. This is what Mitali could definitely not want to be brought to the party’s attention,” Ngirabakunzi said.
Usually, the president of the party is obliged to raise such issues for the committee to scrutinize and solve.
Ngirabakunzi says the new leadership would formally takeover and finish everything that was not done by the latter or even consult with what was done for them to be accomplished in the spirit of the entire PL party. Still, since Mitali was the head of the evaluation committee Ngirabakunzi says Mitali lost interest in the whole issues.
Minister Nkusi speaks out
One of the respectable party members, Information Minister Prof. Laurent Nkusi attended the elections and voted. He says he was satisfied with the way elections were conducted, and that he did not see any kind of voting irregularities.
“I heard about the claims but I don’t know anything about those corruption claims, Nkusi said but noted that if there were some cases, those involved could not expose themselves in public.
Again, if there were cases of corruption and other irregularities, Prof. Nkusi says, both parties would be responsible and he doesn’t understand why those who said were bribed come to mention now after elections.
When asked why he agreed to vote while some of the candidates were violating party rules, he said voters were not informed of the financial status of the candidates.
“Ngirabakunzi himself should explain why he allowed those people to go ahead and campaign yet he was in position to take the final decision.” But Ngirabakunzi does not agree with Nkusi’s statement.
“He was among the people who cleared their debts three days before elections because he knew the rules would restrict him from voting and I wonder why they (voters) did not ask electoral officials if candidates were clean.”
Ngirabakunzi adds that he could not check all people in the country; he only was able to do this for those who were going to be elected for the bureau at the congressional gathering.
Minister Nkusi said that as a member, he is not happy with the wrangles within the party.
“Of course I am not happy with the divisions among members. It was very important to take a decision to end the problems.”
Another confusing issue that remained unclear was when party members were left wondering why Ngirabakunzi, who had also contested and was re-elected as the treasurer, could raise complaints that fellow members had bribed voters.
“Let me tell you, I grew up with morals and I am a respectable person but I cannot change my behaviour at this age, that implies that, I could not sit there and let what happened remain. I am a man of honour and that is why I am fighting for eradicating such irregularities in our party.”
When asked again if he is not concerned with the kind of decision taken against the embattled members, Nkusi said, “I can’t comment on that because it is in court and it will be the court to decide.”
He denied reports that he attended a meeting with among others, Mitali, to resolve the issues as a man of integrity and among the elders in the party. But Ngirabakunzi claims he was in the meeting.
“I can’t imagine why a minister behaves like that.”
After elections, who is who?
The five suspended senior members filed a legal challenge against the party leadership for being sidelined as the infighting continued.
The squabbles had hit rock bottom after its National Council voted to suspend the five from all party leadership positions for accusing the party heads including Mitali of corruption.
Dr. Nyabyenda had said that, “We had sought a peaceful settlement of the crisis for the good of the party, but Mitali was not ready to talk peace. We were willing to drop the accusations, not because we thought we were wrong but just to prevent the party from sliding into more problems, and in the spirit of tolerance.”
The expelled members say Mitali’s was a one mans decision to expel the five bigwigs who he felt would interfere with his way of administration.
According to article 47 of the statute, at least two thirds of the members are supposed to vote for the expulsion of a member.
But only 25 out of 98 members voted. Mitali says that was not the number and the decision to expel them was taken after several attempts to discuss failed to settle the matter.
“We created a team of thirty people to investigate the claims by those members but the team gave a report saying the claims were baseless and had no proof,” Mitali said yesterday on phone from Nairobi.
He added that after the investigations were carried out, the Ngirabakunzi group was requested to withdraw copies of letters they had forwarded to the Local Government Minister and the Ombudsman.
“We suspended them and asked them to apologize to the individuals they had tinted with the corruption claims and Ngirabakunzi was told to handover to someone else but they all failed,” Mitali explained.
The final decision was then to expel them from both the party and the parliament. Mitali, Party first vice president Senator Odette Nyiramirimo and others were supposed to be asked for pardon.
Those accused dismissed the claims, and instead claimed that the five were attempting to split the party for personal benefits.
Surprisingly, reports say the party probe team said it had failed to technically ‘confirm or disqualify’ the allegations, calling for more independent investigations.
But earlier on, Mitali had been accused that he had wanted the five men to be expelled from the party even before any decision was made but denied saying that was just a proposal from some party members, which however was not supported by majority of members.
However, yesterday Mitali said the expulsion decision was approved by the majority. The code of conduct restricts leaders of political parties to ‘hurriedly take decisions to silence other members or hide facts and ideas of other members’ and the PL decision to expel fellow members and moreover active, is considered a quick decision.
According to Mitali, the crisis had taken place more than a month and when such serious problems appear, there are organs or a special commission that takes a decision without taking it to the national congress.
Did Mitali ignore, Article 11, which guides political parties to respect laws governing political organizations?
“For the case of allowing people to contest yet they had debts, he should answer that because he had the lists of all members and he was supposed to verbally clear all candidates during the congress meeting,” Mitali says in response to the allegation by Ngirabakunzi.
When asked why after elected as president he could not listen to those issues raised and instead hurriedly wanted to silence anyone who complained, Mitali said, “First of all, the issue of debts was convectional, we just agreed on that to allow transparency and self-esteem but we actually allowed those in the provinces because they had taken long without actively participating in party activities.”
Mitali says there was even no formula of paying the contributions.
“One may decide to contribute annually or after three weeks, it’s just a commitment,” he said and refuted claims that he had a long-lasting debt and, while defending himself, he said, “If someone promises a contribution of say Frw2m, as you well know, it may take time and we will not stop promising contributions.”
Article 10 of the code of conduct for political parties and their members; says a leader of a political party is restricted from threatening and dictating using his position in the party to fulfill or achieve their own benefits using illegal means.
Mitali does not agree he flouted the rules. He denies claims he is among the people who bribed voters and members wanted elections repeated. Ngirabakunzi said it’s the ordinary members who wanted the re-elections.
“We have proof of the irregularities and corruption testimonies from the same people who say they were given money but they refused to take it and that is why they reported the cases.” These are the cases highlighted in the reports copied to Minaloc and the Ombudsman’s office.
“All concerned authorities we wrote to, did not do anything. I think they feared and we think it is the first time Minaloc receives such a case, maybe it was beyond them,” Ngirabakunzi said and added that, “Minaloc Minister (Protain Musoni) may have failed to deal with his fellow minister in solving such a serious case and decided to ignore us.”
Mitali however said Minaloc has its competence but with certain limits of their authority. Minister, Protain Musoni and the Ombudsman were not available for comments by press time. Several attempts to speak to them were futile.
Court rules out
The vice Speaker of Chamber of Deputies, Ambassador Denis Polisi received a letter from Mitali instructing him to expel the lawmakers.
He responded quickly and wrote to the president of National Electoral Commission (NEC) Prof. Chrysologue Karangwa requesting his office to organise and announce the names to replace the MPs that their party had withdrawn them.
And since Mitali was the next in line on the party’s parliamentary candidates, he was in position to join the House had he decided to forego his ministerial post.
Through their lawyers, Mbaga Tuzinde Mbonyimbuga and Floribert Karuranga, the two MPs challenged the legality of the decision to expel them from the party and had requested the court to stay the status.
Article 78 of the Constitution gives the MPs the right to seek legal redress by lodging a lawsuit with the High Court (as the court of first instance) and the Supreme Court in case of an appeal.
The High Court ruled in favour of the party and the lawmakers appealed to the Supreme Court but two legislators’ successors have already been sworn in.
Ngirabakunzi says he will consult his lawyer and that they are not ready to ask for damages if the court rules in their favour but we will automatically not be returned into the parliament instead they will be integrated in the party.
But he said that it can simply expose how the constitution was disrespected by individuals who he said have personal interests. He mentioned people like Ambassador Police who he had earlier called a cowboy. Mitali has a different view in case court rules that they are innocent.
“It cannot force us to take them back into the party.”
Will Mitali contest for Presidency?
Asked if he was planning to contest for the presidential Post in the forth coming elections, come 2010, Mitali said, “It’s too early and I haven’t thought about it but we will decide and it is a right of any member to contest.”
However, he was quick to add that PL supports President Kagame. Ngirabakunzi on the other hand said PL did not propose a candidate. Ngirabakunzi swore Mitali would not be president.
“I don’t think he can have such ambitions and I even doubt why he is a minister,” the lawmaker said. He proudly said if the party does not take on having an active treasury, “He will resign.”
Embattled Ngirabakunzi says “No. he (Mitali) was in the party before me but that doesn’t have anything to do with me, just because he became a minister, he ignored the party strength.
And on top of that, I am self sustained, older than him and he has just grown while I am watching. I am a businessman and I can easily leave politics and return to my business but my effort is to contribute to the building of a democratic country.”