Principal Secretary (PS) for Agriculture and Water Development Grey Nyandule Phiri and his Finance counterpart Cliff Chiunda have appealed against the High Court nine-month custodial sentence which was suspended to 24 months.
High Court judge Charles Mkandawire convicted the two for contempt of court for failing to make a public apology as ordered by the Supreme Court of Appeal over the manner in which farm equipment such as tractors bought using a loan from a bank in India were sold off. The case is loosely called Tractor-gate.
Lawyer for the duo, Chancy Gondwe, has made the appeal on 17 grounds and seeks an order to set aside the conviction and suspended custodial sentence.
Among others, Gondwe said Mkandawire erred in law by failing to hold that the accused complied with the ruling of the Supreme Court by issuing the apologies; hence, there was no further need on the part of the Ombudsman, Martha Chizuma, to continue pursuing committal proceedings.
“The learned judge erred in law in finding the two to be in contempt when the two had a valid defence that made them not to apologise within the prescribed period,” the appeal notice reads.
It adds that Mkandawire erred in law in finding the accused in contempt when the same court blamed the Attorney General’s office that it contributed to the non-compliance on the part of the accused.
“The learned judge erred in law when he failed to understand that the contempt herein was civil contempt and not criminal contempt, therefore, not affecting the employment status of the respondents/ appellants,” the notice reads.
Chizuma acknowledged that her lawyers have received the notice of appeal. “It is within their right to appeal and, as an office, it is our duty to defend the Constitution, the law and what is right as reflected in the conviction and sentence of the High Court; so we will fight the appeal,” she said.
The High Court said the two PSs disrespected the court order in relation to the procurement of farm equipment with a loan of K37 billion from the Export-Import Bank of India.