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Ombudsman probes South African lawyers hiring

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Sangwani Mwafulirwa

The Office of the Ombudsman has written the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec), the Attorney General (AG) and the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDAA), asking for an explanation on their roles in the procurement of legal services of South African lawyers.

The three institutions have been given up to June 8 2020 to respond to the demand.

Mec entered into a $788,500 (about K600 million) contract with a South African law firm Mboweni Maluleke Inc

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Attorneys to represent the commission in the election appeal case but the two lawyers, Dumisa Ntsebeza and Elizabeth Baloyi Mere were not admitted after failing to avail themselves before Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda for hearing due to the coronavirus.

In letters to Mec, AG Kalekeni Kaphale and the Director-General of PPDAA, Ombudsman Martha Chizuma says her office received a complaint on April 14 2020 which alleged acts of maladministration against Kaphale in the manner in which he and Mec procured the South African lawyers’ services.

Spokesperson for the Office of the Ombudsman, Arthur Semba, confirmed about the letters and that they were sent to the concerned institutions.

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In the letter to Kaphale dated May 19 2020, that we have seen, the Ombudsman has asked the AG to provide comments on the allegations levelled against him.

“For avoidance of doubt, it is expected that you provide your comments on the allegations of the legal fees you received from Mec and if indeed the same happened, the legal basis for the same.

“In addition, you will provide your comments on the genesis of the procurement of the legal services, the procedures which were followed and any form of payment that were made during the procurement and engaging on the lawyers and also their legal fees,” reads part of the letter.

Among the allegations that the Ombudsman based the enquiry on include that the AG breached provisions of the PPDA Act by failure to float an open tender for legal services.

The AG, it is alleged, opted for the single-sourcing method and failed to ensure that the Anti- Corruption Bureau vetted the process as required by the PPDA Act.

Kaphale, in an interview Wednesday, said he has heard about the letter and that he will respond once he has read it.

Mec spokesperson, Sangwani Mwafulirwa, also confirmed that the commission has been served with the letter.

Malawi Law Society objected to the admission of the two South African lawyers to the local bar citing what it called a flawed procurement process.

Mec had opted for the foreign lawyers apparently because most local lawyers the commission had approached turned them down and that the one who accepted to work with them would be available after the appeal case had already been heard.

The electoral body and President Peter Mutharika had appealed to the Supreme Court against the judgement of the Constitution Court which had nullified the May 21 2019 presidential poll.

The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and upheld the lower court’s directive that a fresh presidential election should be held within 150 days from February 3 when the first judgement was delivered.

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