Vital Kamerhe, Director of Cabinet of Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi, was on April 8 arrested and incarcerated on suspicion of having been involved in the embezzlement of over 50 million dollars which constituted part of 340 million dollars budgeted for the building of infrastructure under the “100 Days” work programme initiated by the head of state.
Appearing in a court in the Makala Central Prison on Monday, May 11, Vital Kamerhe, who is President of the Union pour la Nation Congolaise (UNC) party, a member of the Cap pour le Changement (CACH) coalition which helped bring Tshisekedi to power, declared that whatever action he took concerning the execution of the “100 Days” work programme was “on behalf of the president”.
He declared: “Normally, the programme is under the prime minister. We had a prime minister voted by the Assembly and he was recently removed by a new assembly so we no longer have a prime minister.
“So the president of the republic should fold his arms for seven months without doing anything? I intervened (in the 100 Days programme) in the name of the president of the republic in order to ensure the work is done so that we can respond to the pressing needs of the Congolese people in the education, health and road sectors.”
The 61-year-old politician clarified that he was not the only one in-charge of coordinating the programme, adding that there were nine persons involved, including the former Minister of Finance and Government Budget, Mr Tshibala, and the Director of the Central Bank of Congo.
Kamerhe’s declarations have raised questions as to whether the Congolese president had a hand in the misappropriation of the sums allegedly embezzled by this Director of Cabinet.
“That the Head of State is yet to make a categorical statement about the situation in which his right-hand man finds himself and continues to retain him as his Director of Cabinet says a lot as far as this case is concerned,” declared a militant of presidential candidate Martin Fayulu of the LAMUKA coalition, who was internationally recognised to have won the elections that brought Tshisekedi to power.
Meanwhile, President Tshisekedi has recently appointed Kamerhe’s former assistant, Desire Cashmir Kolongele to replace him.
The accusations against Kamerhe concern two contracts awarded to a Lebanese businessman, Samih Jammal, the Congo Representative of the Turkish company, Karbod.
The first contract which was signed in April, 2019, involved the construction of 1,500 low-cost housing units at a cost of 57.5 million dollars. The housing units were supposed to have been prefabricated in Turkey before being delivered in Congo by Samih Jammal’s companies.
Whilst still waiting for the first contract to be executed, Samih Jammal was awarded a second contract for the construction of 3,000 housing units intended to house police and military personnel for another 57 million dollars bringing the total amount for contracts awarded to the Lebanese to 114 million dollars.
Of the amount, 60 million dollars was paid to Samih Jammal, 35 million dollars of which was in cash.
According to the accusation against Kamerhe, of the 60 million dollars paid to Samih Jammal, only eight million dollars has been paid to Karmod which is supposed to construct the housing units.
Kamerhe has denied all the accusations against him, saying that the charges were politically motivated.
The trial has been adjourned until May 25 and he was refused bail.
A parliamentarian for Kamerhe’s UNC party declared the party leader’s incarceration as “a big blow, if not a fatal one, for the Cap pour le Changement (CACH) coalition”.
The case that has led to the incarceration of the Congolese president’s chief of staff began back on March 2, 2019, when Tshisekedi, in office for barely more than a month, announced with great fanfare his 100 Days emergency programme.
Through the programme, Tshisekedi planned to gain ground in the absence of a government – the likes of which was still under negotiation with his allies from Joseph Kabila’s coalition, the Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC).
The multi-faceted programme was planned to provide access to electricity and drinking water and, above all, a number of infrastructure construction projects at an Initial budget of 304 million dollars.
In no time, the programme became the centre of a controversy, including political and corruption allegations.
The Congolese media have been having a field day with the case, typified by the notorious flyover bridge construction work, which has led to massive traffic congestion at intersections in Kinshasa.
With construction stalled, several members of Tshisekedi’s party, the Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social (UDPS), and the FCC are speaking out to denounce the sums devoted to the project.
Members of civil society, for their part, see signs of misappropriation of funds.
According to the NGO, Government Spending Watch, more than 80 per cent of the contracts awarded under the programme were done without a call for tenders.
Discontent has been rising, especially given that the cost of the flyovers, initially set at 25 million dollars, has virtually doubled, almost reaching 46 million dollars. With this news, Kamerhe’s name quickly became mixed up in the case.
As the president’s chief of staff, the UNC leader has the right to sign off on contracts and, in this capacity, he approved the release of programme-related funds on several occasions up until the government was appointed at the end of August 2019.