Opposition lawmakers Wednesday reverted to the seating arrangement they had before Leader of the Opposition in Parliament Kondwani Nankhumwa appointed a new shadow cabinet on February 15 this year.
The move is in line with instructions which Attorney General (AG) Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda issued to Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani Hara for the august House to respect a court order which Mangochi South Wes t lawmaker Shadric Namalomba obtained last week.
The communication from the AG, however, exposed some power-play between the Legislature and the Judiciary.
When the House resumed sitting yesterday afternoon, Gotani Hara announced that she had received instructions from Nyirenda for the House to abide by the court order.
“I wish to inform the House that my office has received communication from the Office of the Attorney General advising that there is a court order in favour of Honourable Shadric Namalomba granting permission for judicial review and order of interim stay of the following: (a)The decision of the defendant, Leader of Opposition, made on or around February 15 2022 altering seating arrangements by reallocating the claimant seat 99 and later seat 100 from seat 25, (b) The decision by the defendant, Leader of Opposition, [of] appointing parliamentary spokespersons for the second interested party, the Democratic Progressive Party [DPP]; and the decision by the defendant, Leader of Opposition,[of] appointing a shadow cabinet without consulting and approval of the second interested party, the DPP,” Gotani Hara said.
The Speaker told the House that she was restrained from recognising and acting on the decisions made by Nankhumwa until a further direction from the court.
She was quick to note that Parliament cannot be served with court orders while it is in session but that the court order was served on the Office of the Attorney General which has since communicated the decision to the National Assembly.
Immediately after the pronouncement by Gotani Hara, Leader of the House Richard Chimwendo Banda stood on a Point of Order, asking whether it was in order for the courts to dictate the seating arrangement of the august House.
According to Chimwendo Banda, Parliament was setting a wrong precedent by allowing to be served with court orders while in session, adding that this would encourage many people who feel aggrieved to do the same.
He asked that the House be suspended for the Business Committee of Parliament to meet and deliberate on the issue.
He further wanted to know if the AG had gone to court to set aside the injunction.
The Speaker said the AG had indicated that he would be proceeding to vacate the injunction.
Lands Minister Sam Kawale said he was concerned with how the House was proceeding on the matter, saying it was setting a wrong precedent.
“We seem to be moving backwards because we will be afraid of transacting any business because of fear of injunctions or any other stoppages preventing us from doing our normal business.
“In the end, anyone can come and demand that any other issue should not be discussed, a certain activity should not happen. As such, we are actually eroding the whole independence of Parliament. Madame Speaker, we really need to be careful in the way we will handle this issue,” Kawale said.
Justice Minister Titus Mvalo said it was unfortunate that the law had tied the Speaker of Parliament and lawmakers from doing anything on the matter.
He said immunity granted under Section 60 of the Constitution is limited to arrests for criminal offences, except treason, while Parliament is sitting.
“I fully endorse what the Leader of the House has said that there is a potential of crippling proceedings of Parliament but, as things are now, there isn’t much that can be done to avoid contempt of court.
“But moving forward, I think there will be a need for serious consideration of amending the law and, in particular, extending immunity to not just the Speaker and deputy speakers but also secretariat or committees because of the potential of crippling operations of the National Assembly,” Mvalo said.
United Democratic Front Leader in the House, Ned Poya, said it was not in order for the Business Committee of Parliament to discuss the matter, saying that would be tantamount to discussing an issue that was in court.
Gotani Hara then directed that opposition legislators revert to their pre-February 15 2022 seating plan.