President Levy Mwanawasa's anti-corruption crusade has reached into the heart of his government and claimed the jobs of both his vice-president and finance minister.
Mwanawasa at the weekend released an eight-page letter addressed to former vice-president Enoch Kavindele and finance minister Emmanuel Kasonde who were both sacked on Thursday. The letter for the first time publicly outlined the reasons for their dismissal, citing alleged corruption and disregard for tender and procurement procedures.
The main indictment was that Kavindele had ignored a presidential decree in March to terminate a crude oil supply contract with Trans Sahara Trading (TST), a subsidiary of the Canadian company Diamond Works. Kavindele had allegedly also failed to follow accounting procedures when he received a US $100,000 donation from TST for the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD).
"I mentioned earlier that I will neither allow MMD nor my leadership to receive gifts which are offered with strings attached. Government was having transactions with TST and you [Kavindele] were giving them a number of favours which neither the Minister of Energy and Water Development, nor myself, were even aware of or briefed [on]..." Mwanawasa's letter said in part.
He also accused TST of being behind the country's recent fuel shortage.
Kavindele's dismissal was welcomed by some fellow cabinet ministers who said it was long overdue.
"He was constantly abusing his authority for his personal business interests. The local business community has complained to government about his abuse of office to further his business interests in the past," Sylvia Masebo, member of the opposition Zambia Republican Party and minister of local government and housing told journalists.
Kavindele, a well-known businessman and political survivor, at the weekend reacted by calling a press conference and announcing that he was taking over the running of the MMD.
"The party constitution allows me [as elected vice president] to do so - and I am, also in my capacity as MMD president, lifting the suspensions of all National Executive Council [NEC: the supreme council of the ruling party] members," Kavindele announced, adding that elections to elect a new party president would be held within three months.
The position of party president became vacant after Frederick Chiluba resigned as leader of the MMD. Eight NEC members, including national chairman Chitalu Sampa, a former defence minister, were suspended by Mwanawasa for sympathising with Chiluba, who has been arrested and charged with more than 60 counts of theft of public funds.
Political analyst Fred Mutesa told IRIN that Kavindele's challenge was likely to fizzle out, especially as MMD militants remained loyal to Mwanawasa and were already demanding Kavindele's resignation as leader of the party.
Mutesa pointed out that what does remain an issue of controversy, and a subject of a court challenge, was the appointment last week of former opposition leader Nevers Mumba as vice-president to replace Kavindele.
Zambia's constitution does not allow an individual who, like Mumba, has previously stood in a general election and lost to be appointed a minister or vice-president. Mumba, a television evangelist who until last week was the leader of the opposition National Citizens Coalition, won less than two percent of the vote in presidential elections in 2001.
"We are seeking a court intervention on this matter [of Mumba's appointment] because the law clearly speaks against this," Elizabeth Chitika, spokesperson for the opposition Forum for Democracy and Development said last week.
Mwanawasa said former finance minister Kasonde's removal was because he had given a local company a contract to supply Zambia with 40,000 mt of maize at an inflated price, despite the president having given an assurance to the country's farmers that the local market would be protected by a ban on maize imports.
Kasonde also made a commitment to the International Monetary Fund that Zambia would continue with its privatisation programme, despite a pledge by Mwanawasa that key state-owned assets would not be sold.
"Hon. Kavindele, it is becoming imperative that I should take stern measures against some of our colleagues who do not share my vision to provide a government of high integrity and morals. It's quite clear that you and honourable Kasonde do not fall in this category. I have therefore decided that you and Hon. Kasonde should be removed," Mwanawasa's letter said.