Comesa Market scandal: The plot thickens

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The cartel perpetrating illegalities at Comesa Market has continued to defy the rule of law without any consequences. The background to this story is that in February last year, the Ministry of Local Government introduced Statutory Instrument number 10 of 2018 that strengthens laws against trading in undesignated places and public nuisances, following one of the worst cholera outbreaks in Zambia’s history.

Since then, scenes of women and youths being bundled into police vehicles for trading on the streets of Lusaka have become a familiar sight. But at Comesa Market, illegal trading, construction of permanent steel structures on public installations and encroachment on private land continues unabated.

That police are seen chasing around poor women and youths on the streets of Lusaka everyday but conveniently ‘skip’ Comesa Market – where permanent steel structures have been erected on undesignated land – should ordinarily raise questions as to why.

Three Cabinet ministers namely Jean Kapata (Lands), Bowman Lusambo (Lusaka Province) and Vincent Mwale (Local Government) have spoken out strongly against illegal trading. following the expose published on the Zambian Eye on January 28, Lusambo made an impromptu visit to Comesa Market during which he ordered a stop to all illegal activity, warning that the local authority would soon move in with bulldozers.

It is now 14 days since Lusambo made the kind of unannounced visit that he is famously for but it remains ‘business as usual’ at Comesa and this reporter now understands why.

Readers may wish to know that initial investigations indicated that the cartel comprising PF cadres and foreign nationals operating under the guise of the so-called Comesa Market committee was using its alleged links to State House to intimidate council officials and other senior civil servants to prevent them from enforcing the law. One source at the market, however, believes that there is a ‘PF v MMD’ dynamic at play in the continued illegal activity at Comesa. Apparently, the PF in Lusaka, led by a Mr Stafford Kayame, who are the key backers of the cartel that are perpetrating illegality at Comesa, have been defying Bowman Lusambo and Vincent Mwale because they are considered to not be PF at heart but MMD.

However, the PF Secretariat has categorically distanced itself from the criminal activity at Comesa, with the deputy secretary general of the party, Mumbi Phiri, telling a local tabloid recently: “I don’t like people doing wrong things in the name of the party. We don’t tolerate anarchy in the party. We are a disciplined party and people should follow the law.”

These words by Phiri suggest that what is happening at Comesa has no blessings of the PF leadership, which then raises questions as to why the party has still not disciplined Kayame and his cohorts.

Further investigations have now revealed that besides party politics, corruption is at the center of what is obtaining at Comesa Market. It has emerged that the cartel and its PF backers have been using the money illegally obtaining from the traders to bribe key Lusaka City Council officials so that they can continue to frustrate the planned demolition exercise.

This reporter has information to the effect that at least two high-ranking LCC officials are on the payroll of the cartel led by a Ugandan national named Farook and have been undermining the authority of the Lusaka town clerk Alex Mwansa who has already given the go-ahead for the LCC bulldozers to move in and demolish the illegal structures and ensure that all traders move to designated areas.

So, essentially, all that remains is for the council police to move in, demolish the illegal structures and arrest whoever stands in their way. Three cabinet ministers have spoken, the town clerk has given his seal of approval but these two officials have seen to it that the demolition exercise does not go ahead, which calls for the Anti-corruption Commission (ACC) to urgently move in and investigate these two officials.

This writer has all the details of who these two officials are meeting, where they are meeting and the amounts of money that have exchanged hands and thee details shall be made public soon.

As late as Friday last week, the cartel was collecting sums of K300 from the more than 60 illegal traders at Comesa under the pretext that they would fix the roads in the area but this writer has been reliably informed that the said money was used to oil the hands of the two council officials and a police officer at Comesa Police Post. As a matter of fact, the initial sum the cartel had planned to charge each trader was K1,000 but it was reduced to K300 after the traders protested.

Of course, like this writer has stated before, the Mayor of Lusaka Miles Sampa cannot be counted on to do the right thing because he is politically handicapped. The public already knows what happened to him the last time he tried tackle illegal land issues involving his own party. So it’s either he is dead scared or his is in league with the Comesa cartel. Whatever the case, Sampa is seemingly not up to the task at hand especially now that the issue of encroachment and illegal construction in the capital city is approaching crisis levels.

On Saturday, Zambia Army Commander Lieutenant General William Sikazwe made impassioned plea to Sampa during a goodwill dinner hosted in the Mayor’s honour to save the Army’s land in Chalala area from being encroached on, a situation he described as worsening. Now, if this plea by the Army does not jolt the slumbering Sampa into action, this writer does not know what will.

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