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CSOs for judicial review on George Chaponda case

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Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) that took fired minister of Agriculture and Water Development, George Chaponda, to the court on his involvement in a controversial purchase of maize from Zambia have asked the Supreme Court of Appeal to allow the matter to proceed for judicial review even though the case has been overtaken by events.

The State has, however, asked the appeal court that the judicial review, as ordered by the Mzuzu High Court, should be quashed because there was no arguable case that requires such a review.

Attorney General (AG), Kalekeni Kaphale, made the appeal to the Supreme Court against the lower court’s order on President Peter Mutharika’s failure to suspend Chaponda while he was being investigated.

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Kaphale also wants the appeal court to look into whether the CSOs including, Centre for the Development of People (Cedep), CCAP Synod of Livingstonia and Youth and Society (Yas) were representing people’s interest, hence having enough interest on the matter and that some of the commissioners appointed by Mutharika in commission of inquiry that investigated the matter were civil servants and would be biased in their work.

Appearing before a three-member panel of Supreme Court of Appeal judges comprising Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda, Justice Edward Twea and Justice Frank Kapanda, counsel for the CSOs, Victor Gondwe, argued that issues raised in the lower court necessitate further inquiry.

Gondwe told the court sitting in Mzuzu, yesterday, that even though the commission of inquiry set up by Mutharika completed its work, it remains important for precedent’s sake that laws that govern ministerial appointments, removal and suspension in the country’s Constitution should be looked into.

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“The position of our clients was not against anybody else when we went to the lower court. We simply wanted to bring in accountability… as an opportunity to remind those in authority that they are accountable to the people in general and also to use that case as a basis for making sure that our laws, especially on who can take matters to court on behalf of the masses, are made clear.

“The position has now changed. A lot of developments have happened that may not have been there that time. To some extent, our clients complained that some of the issues may have been addressed in view of what had occurred,” Gondwe said.

Arguing the State’s appeal, Apoche Itimu who represented the AG, said matters that led to the granting of a judicial review were not basis enough and that the lower court erred in granting such an order.

She said the three CSOs were not the right parties to the matter on the basis that they did not have sufficient interest on the mater.

“In the lower court, the applicants did not present to court any affidavits and there was no constitutional evidence that was presented to help the court on whether or not the CSOs had sufficient interest. There also was no evidence on how their rights would be affected,” Itimu said.

Itimu argued that there are limits to the extent to which a minister can be suspended under the country’s laws.

She defended the appeal that matters raised at the Supreme Court would set precedent on how one can commence judicial review among others.

“The matter would still have implications because the court is being called upon to look at circumstances that require judicial review. Can anybody, without being affected by that decision, go before the court and commence proceedings for example? That has a bearing on how we handle a lot of matters in this county,” Itimu said.

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