PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai Thursday cancelled a council of ministers meeting in protest against the incarceration of MDC treasurer Roy Bennett, amid reports that the premier and ministers from his party were mooting a suspension of government business until the embattled politician’s release.
Sources in the MDC and the donor community said Tsvangirai and his ministers would boycott government business until Bennett is released and sticking issues of the global political agreement are resolved.
Senior MDC officials, the sources said, had on Wednesday briefed members of the donor community on that decision.
The MDC national executive is expected to meet today to endorse the boycott.
Bennett, who is facing charges of possessing arms for the purposes of terrorism and banditry and inciting acts of insurgency, was on Wednesday indicted for trial to the High Court and locked up by Mutare provincial magistrate Lucy Mungwari.
Bennett has to apply for fresh bail as the law states that when one is indicted he or she automatically loses bail granted by a lower court.
However, the MDC said transferring Bennett’s case to the High Court was a “sinister move meant to scuttle his appointment as deputy Agriculture minister”.
Tsvangirai’s spokesperson James Maridadi yesterday confirmed that the council of ministers meeting was cancelled by the premier after the MDC summoned him to deal with the Bennett issue.
“The council of ministers meeting did not take place today (yesterday) because the prime minister postponed it to attend to urgent party matters — the issue of Roy Bennett,” Maridadi said.
He said Tsvangirai had since Wednesday tried in vain to meet President Robert Mugabe over the Bennett issue.
“Up to today (yesterday) the prime minister has been trying to meet the president because the Bennett issue is pertinent,” Maridadi said.
He declined to comment on reports that Tsvangirai and ministers from the MDC had resolved to boycott government business until Bennett and other outstanding issues were resolved.
However, Maridadi was quoted in online publications confirming that Tsvangirai has suspended going to his government office and would work from the MDC headquarters — Harvest House — until Bennett’s issue was resolved.
“The council of ministers (meeting on Thursday) has been cancelled. The prime minister has suspended his coming to the office until the issue of Senator Bennett is resolved. He wants that matter resolved immediately,” Maridadi was quoted as saying.
MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa denied that they were boycotting government business saying it was just “speculation”.
He, however, said the party’s national executive was going to meet today to discuss the way forward on Bennett’s case and other outstanding issues.
The MDC top leadership yesterday held a crisis meeting at Harvest House and they are expected to make their decision today, after which Tsvangirai is expected to brief the media and later diplomats.
Bennett’s lawyer, Harrison Nkomo of Mtetwa & Nyambirai Legal Practitioners yesterday, said they filed an urgent bail application at the High Court and the matter would be heard today.
“The hearing has been set down for tomorrow (today) at 9am at the High Court,” said Nkomo.
Meanwhile, Swedish ambassador to Zimbabwe Sten Rylander whose country holds the European Union presidency yesterday said the renewed indictment and subsequent detention of Bennett was nothing less than provocative given the on-going political processes in the country.
“This action — taken just prior to very important donor discussions on Zimbabwe, together with other negative developments recently, such as the implied threats against independent media practitioners and the intense attacks on Finance minister Tendai Biti in his efforts to pave the way for continued macroeconomic reforms and debt relief — does not facilitate the on-going dialogue to normalise relations with Zimbabwe,” Rylander said.
The US embassy acting public affairs officer Andrew Posner said his government is very concerned about the state of the rule of law in Zimbabwe and ongoing politicised arrests and prosecutions.
Posner said: “Zanu PF’s leadership has repeatedly failed to implement provisions in the global political agreement, an agreement President Mugabe himself signed. Mr Bennett has been awaiting swearing-in as deputy minister of Agriculture since the start of the transitional government in early February.
“This is a blatant example of the absence of rule of law in Zimbabwe and is a transparent attempt to prevent Roy Bennett from being sworn-in as deputy minister of Agriculture.” He added: “We note that the prosecution has never presented any credible evidence against Mr Bennett. We understand that he has complied with all court requirements, including presenting himself to police on a regular basis, during a lengthy pre-trial period.”
Posner further called on the Zanu PF leadership to act in good faith and end the harassment of members of the MDC, Bennett included.
The MDC on its website described Bennett’s imprisonment as “yet another serious attack on the credibility of the inclusive government”. The move would poison both the letter and the spirit of the inclusive government, it said.