Ben Phiri grilled over qualification


It was a tough day yesterday in the office for Minister of Local Government Ben Malunga Phiri as he endured a dose of grilling in the ongoing presidential elections case being heard in the Constitutional Court in Lilongwe.

The flamboyant minister was a shadow of himself as he attempted to answer simple but tricky questions from UTM lawyer Chikosa Silungwe during cross-examination which took close to two hours.

Throughout the cross-examination, Silungwe reminded Phiri of the consequences of lying under oath.


Among others, Silungwe took Phiri to task over his academic qualification, including his PhD, master’s degree and bachelor’s degree.

“Honourable minister, in your commencement at page one, there is a reference there to the honorific Dr. I take it that stands for doctor. This is doctor as in medical doctor or doctor of philosophy? asked Silungwe to which Phiri said it was biblical philosophy.

But lawyer for President Peter Mutharika Frank Mbeta objected to the questioning saying it was not part of the checklist for cross-examination.


“Counsel restricted himself to paragraph four, seven, eight and 14. This is not part of what they had indicated they would like to cross-examine on,” Mbeta said.

But Silungwe argued that they had indicated in their checklist that they would ask questions on Phiri’s commencement.

“My Lady, My Lords, I am perfectly within the parameters we had set ourselves for the cross-examination,” said the deep-voiced Silungwe.

“Honourable minister, you said your doctorate is in biblical philosophy, would you please tell the court the institution you obtained your doctorate from? asked Silungwe to which Phiri responded by saying Jerusalem Bible College.

But Mbeta stood again on a point of order to question the relevance of Phiri’s qualification to the case at hand.

Silungwe responded by saying “what you depone to will always go to your credibility or not. As you will recall My Lady, My Lords, I started by pointing out to the witness the consequences of perjury and, therefore, my questions, limited as they would be on his commencement and the things he states there simply seek to point that fact out.

“That whatever you swear as a statement of fact and truth must indeed be a statement of fact and truth,” Silungwe said.

He went on to ask Phiri about the field of his master’s and bachelor’s degrees which he said are in international relations.

Phiri said the master’s is from Costerfold University while the bachelor’s is from Atlantic International University.

“You do realise that Atlantic International University is a diploma mill, is associated with fake academic qualifications?” Silungwe said.

He further asked Phiri what his thesis was for PhD and his thesis in that thesis.

Silungwe also asked Phiri about issues raised by election auditors in their report which, among other things, highlighted glaring shortfalls in the result management system.

In addition, Silungwe asked Phiri to confirm with the court that he did not indicate, in his sworn statement, that original sheets were used despite pointing out that there were altered sheets while other sheets were marred by Tipp-Ex.

Hearing of the case continues on November 25 when Malawi Congress Party’s lawyer Senior Counsel Modecai Msisha would start cross-examining Phiri.

According to Chairperson of the five-judge panel hearing the case Healy Potani, they want hearing of the case concluded by December 6.

Since Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) declared Mutharika of Democratic Progressive Party winner of May 21 Tripartite Elections, tension has been hovering around the country, with some quarters disputing results of the elections.

Mec announced that Mutharika got 1,940,709 votes, representing 38.57 percent of votes cast, while MCP president Lazarus Chakwera got 1,781,740 votes, representing 35.41 percent.

UTM’s Saulos Chilima came third after getting 1,018,369 votes, translating into 20.24 percent of votes counted.

MCP and UTM are challenging the presidential election results in court, seeking nullification of the results.

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