By Scoop Reporter

THE sudden arrest of Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya is more about the jockeying for high office than campaigns against corruption, Africa Confidential has revealed.

In its latest report on Zambia, Africa Confidential says once one of President Edgar Lungu’s closest allies and considered by many his most likely successor-or at least his running mate in next year’s general election-Chitalu Chilufya is suddenly yesterday’s man.

It says this is after being arrested on corruption charges (AC Vol 60 No 23, Intrigue at State House & Vol 59 No 8, As the debts balloon, Lungu avoids the spotlight) and appeared in a Lusaka court on July 16, 202 to plead not guilty to four counts of corruption which could fetch him a five-year sentence if convicted with trial starting on 4 August.

It claims Dr. Chilufya’s fall from grace was orchestrated by a rival faction within the governing party seeking to undermine his position in the succession race, State House and that Patriotic Front (PF) insiders have told Africa Confidential.

“The faction is predominantly Bemba and includes the influential former Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda, Tourism Minister Ronald Chitotela, and Chitimukulu Kanyanta Manga Henry Sosala, the paramount chief of the Bemba, the largest ethnic group in Zambia with about 20 percent of the population.

“Although Chilufya is also Bemba, this faction has long courted Lungu to anoint the current Finance Minister Bwalya Ng’andu, another Bemba, as his successor or running mate. The group fears that Lungu is unpopular and that fielding him in the August 2021 poll could lead to defeat.

“But they are unconvinced that Chilufya is a better alternative, not least because he, like the President and his entourage, has been accused of graft, making him difficult to market to voters, many of whom are disenchanted with the growing levels of corruption in Lungu’s administration,” reads the report in part.

It says senior PF strategists are also afraid that President Lungu may not be well enough to complete another term if he won re-election and that pundits say the Bemba group has manoeuvred against Dr. Chilufya in order to improve N’gandu’s chances, either as Lungu’s running mate if he goes for a third term, or as the PF’s presidential candidate.

“Until recently, the President refused to sanction moves by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) against Chilufya for fear that he himself might be dragged into the case. But that was before the coronavirus outbreak catapulted the Health Minister, who provided daily updates on the spread and effects of the virus, to the front seat of the government’s public relations campaign.

“Chilufya grasped the opportunity to promote an image as a competent politician in a cabinet riddled with incompetents, although his department has had a very patchy record on health management in general (AC Vol 61 No 4, Unhealthy bank balance).

“More importantly, Chilufya also became the recipient of huge donations from corporate entities and businesspeople seeking to contribute money to the government’s fight against the pandemic. After oppositionists pointed to the oddity of donating money directly to the ministry, Vice-President Inonge Wina and Ng’andu publicly expressed concern about the lack of accountability for the donations, prompting suggestions that Chilufya was using the pandemic to boost his personal campaign war chest,” reads the report in part.

It says intimidated by Dr. Chilufya’s growing reach, President Lungu finally intervened in June by ordering the Government’s daily briefings on COVID-19 be reduced to a maximum of two per week – though a recent spike in the number of positive cases may force the revision of this directive.

“The President has also ordered the reopening of schools, churches, airports, and all major sectors of the economy, stating that ‘a new normal’ should resume.

“To placate the pro-Ng’andu faction, Lungu authorised the prosecution of Chilufya but only after ordering the ACC to bring lesser charges against him that would not implicate the President, insiders say,” reads the report.

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