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Pressure on Mec over case costs

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Charles Kajoloweka

Pressure is mounting on the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) to disclose all the expenditures it incurred in the presidential election results case of 2019 which saw the country going to a fresh presidential poll on June 23 this year.

On top of the K7 billion that the High Court has awarded now-President Lazarus Chakwera and his vice Saulos Chilima, there are fears that more millions of kwacha might have been spent as Mec engaged the services of a private-practice lawyer in the case.

Youth activist Charles Kajoloweka Tuesday charged that on top of the K7 billion that Mec has been ordered to pay Chakwera and Chilima—who successfully moved the courts that the election should be nullified—Malawians deserve to know how much Mec’s lawyers were paid.

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Kajoloweka, whose organisation Youth and Society wrote the Jane Ansah-led commission on February 18, asking for a breakdown of costs in the election case, said the secrecy around Mec’s expenditure is cause for worry.

“It is unfortunate that Mec told us that they are only answerable to the President and Parliament, but they have to be accountable to the public as well. With this bill, Mec must make sure that all expenditures related to the case are made public.

“Malawians must appreciate how much of their taxes have gone down the drain because of the ineptness of the previous commission,” Kajoloweka said.

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Dean of Legal Studies at Chancellor College Sunduzwayo Madise decried that Malawians are suffering for what he called arrogance and stubbornness of the Ansah-led commission.

Asked on how much the commission had spent cumulatively on local and South African lawyers whom it hired for the appeal case, Mec spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa referred us to the commission’s Director of Legal Affairs David Matumika Banda who said: “The commission did not make any payment to the South African Lawyers.”

The Daily Times has it on good authority, however, that the commission has asked for a report from its secretariat detailing all the expenditures incurred during the time the presidential election case was being heard.

In March this year, reports emerged that Mec had confirmed the hiring of four South African lawyers of Mboweni Maluleke Inc Attorneys, for the appeal case at a contract fee of $788, 500 (about K600 million) with 50 percent upfront payment.

Asked on whether they find the K7 billion bill justifiable, president of the Malawi Law Society (MLS), which was one of the friends of the court in the election’s case Burton Mhango, said “the court could have done better for the general public to appreciate the sum”.

“What we have observed in the rulings is that the Registrar has not given full particulars of her reference to these key considerations in Order 31 rule 5 [Civil Procedures Rule] and has not given any explanation how she has arrived at the figures to be paid to the petitioners.

“She has also not stated in the rulings that she has applied her mind to those aspects on any of the cost items in the bill that was before the court. In fact, she has not disclosed the items of taxation and the weight attached to them before arriving at the figures,” Mhango said.

He, however, said the MLS recognises the discretion that the Registrar [Agnes Patemba in this case] has as the assessing authority.

After successfully challenging the credibility of the May 21, 2019 presidential election, Chakwera and Chilima partnered through the Tonse Alliance to dislodge then-president Peter Mutharika.

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