The High Court in Lilongwe has sentenced two principal secretaries for Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Finance Grey Nyandule Phiri and Cliff Chiunda respectively to custodial sentence of nine months each for contempt of court but suspended to 24 months.
This means that, within 24 months, the two should not commit any offence and failure to adhere to the sentence will attract a jail sentence of the full nine months.
The court found that the two violated Section 12 of the Constitution.
The two failed to comply with a Supreme Court of Appeal ruling that ordered the two to issue a public apology over a faulty procurement and disposal of tractors bought through a K37 billion ($50 million) loan from Export-Import Bank of India in 2011, a scandal dubbed Tractor-gate.
“The two failed to comply with the highest court of the land’s order, despite being advised to make the public apology. The Ombudsman tried to remind the two that the 60 days’ time frame given by court to make the public apology is coming to an end but they still chose not to apologise,” Judge Charles Mkandawire said.
Mkandawire further said the punishment on contempt of court was invoked to uphold the dignity of the court and to save as an example to would-be offenders.
After citing several examples of cases from Malawi and Kenya, among others, in line with public officers disobeying court order, Mkandawire said the two deserved no mercy because they failed to respect the law.
Commenting on the ruling, Office of the Ombudsman spokesperson Arthur Semba said his office was happy with the ruling because the rule of law has been upheld.
“We are happy the matter has come to its due conclusion. As an office, we are only an agent of the law and if justice is served, the Constitution wins and when the rule of law is upheld, that’s a win for the citizenry,” Semba said.
Lawyer representing the two PSs Chancy Gondwe said he was going to appeal against the ruling.
“I have heard the sentence. I will be filing out an appeal before the end of the day. I would like to appeal because the matter is not criminal in nature,” Gondwe said.
And when he was asked if his clients will lose their jobs, Gondwe insisted that the two could not lose their jobs because the matter was not criminal
Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Joseph Mwanamvekha was among high-level government officials who were present at the court.
The disposal of the farm equipment was subject of a 2016 investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman, whose report made a number of recommendations including that PSs for ministries of Finance and Agriculture should apologise to Malawians for buying equipment with archaic technology