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Blantyre City Council faces legal action

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Some traders, who had their shops pulled down and merchandise confiscated by the Blantyre City Council (BCC) some weeks ago, are threatening to take legal action against the council for breach of contract.

The council confiscated the container shops with merchandise on June 6 but the traders are claiming that their trading licences were valid until June 30 this year when they would be due for renewal.

The traders that we talked to said BCC acted illegally and that they are planning to move the courts on the matter.

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One of the traders Rodrick Makhambera worries that since his merchandise was taken away by the council, he has suffered loss of business putting him in an awkward position to provide for his family.

“We are not doing any business and this has also affected our families and employees. We would like to request BCC to hand back our containers and allow us to continue with our businesses,” Makhambera said.

Another trader Ruth Mbewe insisted that the operators had valid licences that were obtained from the council, giving them legal backing to operate their businesses.

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“In our view, BCC terminated its contract with us before our licences expired hence, there is a breach of contract and if they [BCC] do not give our containers back, we are going to take legal action against them,” Mbewe said.

She also alleged that BCC did not give any notice to the operators to vacate the premises [Mibawa].

“The only notice they gave us was that our licence fees would go up effective July 1,” she said.

But BCC has maintained that it acted within its mandate to close down shops designated in places not fit to conduct business.

The Council’s Publicist Anthony Kasunda said BCC is not against the traders conducting their business but that it had asked them to move to designated places.

He further said a licence is not a legally binding document as far as land allocation is concerned.

“A licence is more to do with the business one is doing and not where the business is located.

“Notices were issued before the relocation and the people were fully aware of it. It, therefore, follows that issues of compensation are a non-starter. Further, one cannot be compensated for encroaching into a territory that is not his or hers,” Kasunda said.

He said the traders were told to relocate to the land opposite Limbe Produce market where their colleagues are trading.

“Some moved and others did not move claiming there is no business. People can leave places such as CI, Naperi just to visit Makheta to buy goat meat. You, therefore, do not necessarily need to move to where your customers are. Why are their colleagues who moved to the designated place still at that place?” questioned Kasunda.

However, the Malawi Law Society (MLS) said it is impossible to conclude that BCC is in the wrong unless details of the licences were made available.

MLS Secretary Micheal Goba Chipeta said a licence by a public authority most invariably contains other terms apart from payment of licence fees.

“We can only tell who is in the wrong if we have details of the licences given by BCC to the affected owners. In addition, assuming that the affected shop owners did not comply with the terms of the licence, section 43 gives a right to the shop owners, as against the council, to a lawful and procedurally fair administrative action, which is justifiable in relation to reasons given where their rights, freedoms, legitimate expectations or interests are affected or threatened.

“Again, we cannot conclude whether the council has flouted that constitutional provision unless we have details of the licence terms and how the council and the shop owners conducted themselves in the totality of the circumstances,” Chipeta said.

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