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Fresh push against president’s immunity

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Lazarus Chakwera

A movement has been established to push for the amendment of Section 91 of the Republican Constitution which gives sitting presidents immunity from prosecution.

Removing the president’s immunity from prosecution was one of the Tonse Alliance’s campaign promises ahead of the June 23 2020 fresh presidential election.

The movement, calling itself Public Square, notes that almost a year after the election which ushered President Lazarus Chakwera and his deputy Saulos Chilima into power, there is no movement to have the provision repealed or amended.

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One of the members of the movement Charles Govati Phiri said presidential immunity was breeding corruption in the country.

“It may not necessarily be the President in person indulging in corruption but also his Cabinet ministers and even people at the State House. Ministers act on delegated authority and that is why even them are not arrested; at least when they are in office.

“The President swears to defend and protect the constitution. The Constitution he swears to defend says we are all equal before the law and yet another section says you cannot prosecute a sitting president” he said.

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Govati Phiri said the President may not necessarily be sent to prison after being convicted but Parliament can then be moved to have him impeached.

Government is yet to start pushing for the amendment of section 91.

Ministry of Justice spokesperson Pilirani Masanjala referred The Daily Times to the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), saying the ministry acts on instructions from OPC to draft amendments.

Secretary to the President and Cabinet Zangazanga Chikhosi referred The Daily Times to the political parties that promised to have the law repealed during the campaign.

“That is not a government issue. It is a political issue; so, talk to the parties,” he said.

In the run-up to the May 21 2019 and then June 23 2020 presidential election, the current State Vice President Saulos Chilima also spoke highly of the need to get rid of provisions that give incumbent presidents immunity.

His spokesperson Pilirani Phiri said Wednesday that Chilima stood by his words on the provision but could not comment further on the matter.

Leader of House Richard Chimwendo Banda asked The Daily Times to pick the promise from Chakwera’s campaign speeches on the matter before he could comment on the development.

However, the Law Commission review of the country’s laws in 2007 did not tackle the issue of Section 91 of the Constitution.

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