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Stand-off between ACB, defence lawyers over phone evidence

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Gift Trapence

By Deogratias Mmana:

The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has refused to surrender a phone to defence lawyers in the case involving former Minister of Energy Newton Kambala and others, as ordered by the court last week.

Last week, the two sides tussled over WhatsApp evidence tendered in court by National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) Deputy Chief Executive Officer Hellen Buluma.

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Chief Resident Magistrate Patrick Chirwa gave five days for the defence to scrutinise the gadget before the reconvening of the case at a later date.

Buluma, with the assistance from ACB, brought to the court the conversations which were printed out, a development which the defence protested.

The defence described the printed evidence as secondary evidence, contrary to documentary evidence rules. They demanded the primary evidence, namely the phone gadget.

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ACB Director General Martha Chizuma promised to make the phone gadget available to the defence lawyers for inspection but insisted that what was in the phone was already disclosed to the other side.

But in a twist of events, the defence lawyers went to the ACB on Thursday to inspect the phone gadget as ordered by the court but ACB did not release the gadget.

Defence lead legal counsel George Mwale confirmed that they indeed went to ACB but the bureau refused to release the gadget.

“The court ordered us to go and inspect the gadget. They refused to give us the gadget and so we left,” said Mwale.

He described ACB’s conduct as contemptuous, adding that the Bureau decided to interpret the court’s order in its own way.

But ACB yesterday justified its decision to deny the counsel access to the gadget.

“It is totally unfortunate that the defence is alleging that they were denied access to the phone. The court ordered the Bureau to allow the defence to inspect the phone at the Bureau premises.

“When they came, they with their IT [Information Technology] experts, demanded to do an inspection in a manner that our forensic and IT experts cautioned may risk tampering with the information on the gadget,” ACB’s spokesperson Egrita Ndala said.

Ndala further said:

“On this advice, we informed the defence that we will be making an application before the court for further directions on ministries or if there is need for embarking on targeted programs, have a separate department within an existing ministry. Otherwise, creating a fully-fledged standalone ministry may be a waste of resources,” said Munthali

He also wondered at the sense of having as much as eight deputy ministers in a struggling economy.

‘Nothing new with new cabinet’

Gift Trapence, Chairperson for the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), said it is disappointing that there was nothing new with the new cabinet.

“It is the very same old faces, apart from shifting individuals from one ministry to the other. It is the very same team that has failed to live up to Malawians’ expectations in terms of delivering.

“Malawians should not expect any change. It will be business as usual. Malawians also expected a lean cabinet. That could have made more economic sense,” Trapence said.

He too said having many deputies is not economic wisdom either and that the old name of Ministry of Unity and Civic Education was making more sense than just the Ministry of Unity.

So, who is where?

Among the changes, Eisenhower Mkaka has been moved to Natural Resources where Nancy Tembo was. Tembo has taken Mkaka’s portfolio at Foreign Affairs.

Richard Chimwendo-Banda moved from Homeland Security to Youth and Sports. He has been replaced by Jean Sendeza who was Deputy Minister of Defence.

Sosten Gwengwe is now Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, taking over from Felix Mlusu who has been sacked from cabinet, along with Rashid Gaffar, Kezzie Msukwa, Roy Kachale, Ulemu Msungama and Chrissie Kanyasho.

Abida Mia and Vera Kamtukule are among those who have been promoted to full ministers.

Some new faces

Some of the new faces in the cabinet include Sam Kawale, Minister of Lands; Mark Katsonga Phiri, Minister of Trade and Industry; Albert Mbawala, Minister of Mining; Ibrahim Matola, Minister of Energy; Harry Mkandawire, Deputy Minister of Defence; Deus Gumba, Deputy Minister of Lands; Enock Phale, Deputy Minister of Health and John Bande, Deputy Minister of Water and Sanitation.

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