Malawi Law Society ponders over government’s Martha Chizuma U-turn
The Malawi Law Society (MLS) is yet to make a decision on whether to withdraw an injunction and the subsequent judicial review it was granted when it challenged the government’s decision to interdict Anti- Corruption Bureau (ACB) Director General Martha Chizuma.
Information gathered by The Daily Times indicates that the lawyers’ body is in discussions with Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Masauko Chamkakala and Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda on matters surrounding the dropping of the charges and the interdiction.
At present, there is no official communication from Secretary to the President and Cabinet Colleen Zamba indicating that the decision to interdict Chizuma has been reversed despite directing so.
Again, there has been no formal document indicating that the State has withdrawn its appeal at the Supreme Court of Appeal despite hired State lawyer George Kadzipatike indicating so to The Daily Times.
With all this not happening, The Daily Times has also come across a court submission by MLS in which it wants some declarations to be made.
In the submission, the law body wants the court to make a declaration on Zamba and the other respondents’ actions, describing them as abuse of office and unconstitutional.
“We seek a declaration that in the premises of the declarations and orders, the respondents (Zamba and others) are guilty of misfeasance and abuse of public office,” the submission reads.
In the submission, they also want the court to declare that, under the circumstances, Zamba, the Lilongwe Chief Resident Magistrate Court and State Prosecutor Levison Mangani’s decisions are unconstitutional, unlawful, unreasonable, ultra vires, procedurally unfair and unjustified.
Further, the submission indicates that MLS wants the court to rule on the immunity of the ACB chief.
“We seek a declaration that the true construction of sections 12, 13,30 and 98 of Constitution, as read with sections 4(3), 5B, 22 and 51A of the Corrupt Practices Act, the occupant of the office of the Director of the Anti-Corruption Bureau in Malawi is immune from any civil or criminal proceedings in respect of any act or thing done or omitted to be done unless bad faith in respect of such act or thing is alleged,” it says.
MLS, in the submission, further seeks a declaration that the decisions of the respondents, made between January 25 and 31, to respectively issue a summons and charge sheet and an interdiction order against Chizuma, on account of alleged criminal conduct based on a leaked audio recording without any allegation of bad faith in the recorded conversation, are unconstitutional.
“It amounts to impairment of the immunity clause and interference with the independence of the bureau and is contrary to public interest for breach of the purpose and intent of sections 12, 13, 30 and 98 of [the] Constitution as read with sections 4(3), 5B, 22 and 51A of the Corrupt Practices,” MLS’s submission reads.
When contacted for a comment and a confirmation on whether MLS will withdraw its case at the High Court or not, MLS President Patrick Mpaka refused to comment on the matter.
Asked whether the society will press on with the Chizuma case and the submissions, Mpaka said: “MLS will process the developments and generate a suitable legal framework with which to manage the court proceedings according to the applicable legal standards.”
Meanwhile, law professor Danwood Chirwa has warned against premature celebration of DPP’s withdrawal of charges against Chizuma.
In a Facebook post, he indicates that Zamba has not yet retracted the letter that suspended the ACB Director General, adding that there is no formal document indicating that the appeal by the State is, indeed, withdrawn.
Chirwa said President Lazarus Chakwera was supposed to instruct Zamba to retract the interdiction letter immediately after the DPP announced his decision.
“Instead the President chose refutations first and last. Not that we are surprised,” reads the last part of the post.
Chamkakala announced the withdrawal of all charges against Chizuma after a long legal battle between MLS and Attorney General’s hired lawyers.
Meanwhile, civil society organisations (CSOs) have welcomed Chamkakala’s decision to discontinue Chizuma’s alleged defamation case.
The CSOs— namely Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiative (Cdedi) as well as the Citizens for Justice and Equity— have described the move as timely.
HRDC Chairperson Gift Trapence has described the DPP’s decision as a stitch in time.
“This is the type of leadership that Malawians are looking for,” he said.
Cdedi Executive Director Silvester Namiwa also lauded Chamkakala.
He, however, said Chakwera must openly commit to let public officials do their job.
“Chizuma should, on her part, act fast on cases now,” Namiwa said.
Nevertheless, Citizens for Justice and Equity, a grouping which has been in support of Chizuma’s interdiction, said while it welcomed the decision, there are indications that the decision has been made because of potential sanctions that donors would have imposed on Malawi.
“We welcome that because the government has weighed two options; safeguarding the rights of one person and jeopardising the wellbeing of the population at large,” vice chairperson Alfred Munika said.
The government was in court trying to fight the Malawi Law Society, which had challenged the government’s decision to interdict Chizuma in court.
Development partners, including the United States, Britain and Norway, condemned the government for the move, accusing it of suppressing the fight against corruption.
Meanwhile, on Saturday night, President Lazarus Chakwera issued a press statement distancing himself from reports that he ordered the discontinuance of Chizuma’s criminal cases.
Mathews Kasanda is a journalist who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from University of Malawi (The Polytechnic).
In 2015, Media Institute of Southern Africa awarded him the Best Print Media Education Journalist of the Year accolade.
He joined Times Group Newsroom in September 2019.