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Steel Firm Scandal Widens Rift In Zimbabwe Ruling Party

A move by ruling party members of Zimbabwe's parliament to impeach the minister of trade in connection with alleged corruption at the Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company has nurtured divisions within ZANU-PF, parliamentary and political sources said.

Industry and Trade Minister Obert Mpofu is alleged to have lied under oath before the house industry committee in hearings on the widening ZISCO scandal.

The investigation followed the collapse of a deal with Indian steel firm Global Steel to refloat the moribund state-owned enterprise with US$400 million over 20 years. The deal is said to have fallen apart when Harare officials demanded share stakes.

With the committee intent on moving an impeachment to the house floor, sources said Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa moved to adjourn parliament until later this month, aiming to buy time to restore discipline within the ruling party's lawmakers. The panel had been scheduled to present its findings on the scandal on Wednesday.

Mpofu became a focus of attention for the committee after he revealed the existence of a report by the National Economic Conduct Inspectorate, a body that pools Central Intelligence Organisation and Finance Ministry officials. But he later backtracked on his initial statement saying ministers and other top officials were implicated.

The committee was unable to obtain a copy of the inspectorate report and prepared its own, which concluded the ZISCO-Global deal was “fraught with irregularities.”

ZANU-PF sources said Chinamasa and Edna Madzongwe, president of the senate, had received marching orders from the top whip ruling party parliamentarians into line in a bid to scuttle the committee investigation into the “Steelgate” scandal.

But MPs backed by speaker John Nkomo refused to budge. Nkomo is said to be aligned to Vice President Joyce Mujuru and Chinamasa is perceived to be sympathetic to rival presidential aspirant Emmerson Mnangagwa. Sources point to this factionalism as the explanation for the lack of consensus on handling the ZISCO scandal.

Anti-Corruption Minister Paul Mangwana confirmed last month that the cabinet was concerned that the house committee was independently investigating the trouble at ZISCO. Mangwana said Chinamasa had communicated this to the speaker of parliament and to the ZANU-PF chief whip, Joram Gumbo.

The impeachment motion was moved by committee chairman Enoch Porusingazi, a ZANU-PF lawmaker for Chipinge South, Manicaland. But speaker Nkomo held the motion in abeyance, giving Mpofu time to respond to the accusation.

Parliamentarian Innocent Gonese of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change explained to reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe why the industry and trade committee had held minister Mpofu in contempt of parliament.

Analyst Glen Mupani, based at Cape Town University, South Africa, said Mugabe's failure to handle the succession issue is tearing up the ruling party.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...