The trial of former President Rupiah Banda opened its third day of proceedings on Wednesday, with former Chief of Staff at State House Austin Sichinga called as a witness by Director of Public Prosecutions Mutembo Nchito.
Answering Nchito’s questions, Sichinga gave his opinion on a copy of letter that police say was found in the home of the Former Minister of Energy Kenneth Konga, which alleges to be a draft signed by former President Banda concerning the acquisition of oil from Nigeria. On the stand, Sichinga testified that he never personally saw the letter in question, dated November 25, 2008, signed by President Banda.
Sichinga told Lusaka Chief Resident Magistrate Joshua Banda: “The president was asking his colleague to help us with crude oil. The second thrust was that the president was asking his colleague to enter into an arrangement with the Zambian government for Nigeria to buy Zambian minerals.”
Sichinga, 59, is a retired civil servant and now a part time lecturer at the University of Zambia, UNZA, with close connections to the ruling party (his older brother, Robert Sichinga, currently serves as the PF Minister of Agriculture. Robert Sichinga’s son is married to a daughter of President Michael Sata).
The trial against former President Rupiah Banda first began following the controversial removal of immunity by less than the constitutionally required 2/3rds majority of parliament seats. While a judicial review is simultaneously underway with view to the constitutional issues of the case, many supporters of former President Banda describe the corruption allegations as “unfounded” and part of a “politically motivated witch hunt” to remove potential competitors from the political arena should President Sata’s fading health prompt a new election.
On the stand today, Sichinga testified that at no time did he deal with anything to do with oil except when one day he was asked to edit a letter. He narrated that as chief of staff he serviced the president to ensure that he performed his job.
“This entailed managing his daily diary. The other job was to look after the staff at State House to ensure that they were doing the right stuff. It was also my responsibility to liase with other ministries on behalf of the president”, he said.
Sichinga, who first went to State House as Principal Private Secretary, also told the court that all correspondence to the president normally passed through his office.
“It was my responsibility to sort out this to all responsible staff. Equally, when the president needed to write, I would either draft the letter or my colleagues would,” he said.
Sichinga also told the court how in May 2009 he came across a letter which he said was a follow up to the earlier one and was in broad terms reminding the Nigerian president about the need to respond. The letter which the court admitted as ID3 was according to Sichinga’s testimony an indication that the letter of November 25, 2008 was delivered.
However, Sichinga told the court that in his discussions Nigerian oil did not specifically come out.
“Generally we did discuss issues to do with securing cheap oil. The discussion was on whether it was possible to secure concessions from some friendly countries to secure cheap oil so that our fuel prices could be reduced,” Sichinga told the court.
Earlier former Zambia’s High Commissioner to Nigeria Alexis Luhila in cross examination by the defence told the Lusaka Chief Resident Magistrate Joshua Banda that he was not privy to the discussion Major Richard Kachingwe had with people at the Nigerian National Oil Company where he accompanied him but remained in the foya adding that he never got any briefing from Major Kachingwe the apparent special envoy. He also told the packed court room that he had no idea of the contents of the khaki envelope Major Kachingwe had with him when he emerged out of an office. This was in response to questions put to him by Sakwiba Sikota, SC.
When asked by another defence lawyer Eric Silwamba, SC to give the designation of the three intelligence officers he had mentioned in his evidence in chief Luhila said , “This might be against their duties……..their names need to be with held. I will need another authority to disclose the names.”
Mr. Luhila said even though he does not recall the specific dates of the briefings from these officers he was not shown any documents. He further went on to tell the court that Major Kachingwe also never showed him any letter of appointment as special envoy.
The matter was adjourned at 11:10 hours to Thursday April 25, 2013 at 09:00 hours when the defence will cross examine Sichinga, PW3.