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Trouble in judiciary

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Trouble is brewing in the Judiciary with the Association for Magistrates (AMA) bitter with their conditions of service and preparing a petition to be presented to President Peter Mutharika.

But to their surprise, the petition containing their grievances fell into the hands of the authorities before they officially engaged the President.

At a meeting for all magistrates in the North last Saturday, the leadership of AMA said circumstances surrounding the leakage were complicated but claimed the authorities in the Judiciary played a role together with the National Intelligence Bureau Service (NIB).

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The magistrates said the leakage of the document came as a great shock to them because everything was being done in confidentiality by the top three leaders of the association who include magistrates Viva Nyimba, Innocent Nebi and Kondani Chinangwa.

Chinangwa said after the document was leaked, authorities in the Judiciary and government were on their necks accusing them of trying to topple government.

He said he personally got intimidating calls questioning him on what he was up to.

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“We were in the course of getting signatures of all magistrates across the country, and we had just remained with the North when I received a call from the Chief Justice [Andrew Nyirenda] asking me what I and colleagues were up to, alleging that our petition was out and we wanted to topple government,”

Chinangwa said he was shocked and when he enquired from his two colleagues. Nebi and Nyimba, they were equally surprised, claiming, as leaders of Ama everything they were doing was among the three of them and there was no way anyone could get such information unless they hacked into their personal computers.

“You see, it is very difficult to keep matters under wraps in an organisation that has over 100 people, especially where no one takes oath of secrecy. The NIB thing is but an assumption. It may be possible one individual within is deliberately or unknowingly giving out information,” said Chinangwa in a subsequent interview.

Chinangwa said later the three were summoned for a meeting with the Chief Justice where they were interrogated on the matter.

“I feared for my life, because I was told that information had already reached the President that we wanted to oust him. Only I and Nebi made it since His Worship Nyimba was out for other engagements,” he explained.

Chinangwa said the Chief Justice accused them of working on the petition behind his back and thus asked them to rescind their decision.

“But our argument was simple. We told the CJ that as magistrates we felt and are still of the view that our outcry on poor conditions of service has been long overdue and then we thought of coming up with something that could yield results hence the decision to pen the Head of State,” Chinangwa explained.

He said after a lengthy deliberation with the Chief Justice who was in company of other senior judges, Ama decided to drop the petition and let the Chief Justice engage with the presidency on their grievances.

“From that meeting an agreement was made that through the Chief Justice’s office, our concerns will be channeled to the Head of State. If that fails to yield tangible results, we will proceed with the petition,” Chinangwa said.

Quizzed on the contents of the petition, Chinangwa said it contained their long standing concerns which mostly border on conditions of service.

Said Chinangwa: “By now every Malawian knows about the challenges that magistrates are facing in the country. For instance, we do not have official security and transport needless to mention the issue of housing. And that is what we put to the attention of the President. We did not mean any mischief but rather getting our voices heard in unison.”

While admitting that document might have leaked, Judiciary spokesperson Mlenga Mvula was quick to warn against implicating Judiciary authorities.

“Indeed the petition was leaked…what I can ably say is that the Chief Justice was indeed concerned that Ama was working on that petition without his knowledge and after learning about it he played more of a parental role of sitting the groups’ leadership down so that necessary procedures should be followed,” said Mvula.

Mvula said there was need for the Chief Justice to be kept in the loop of every action that the magistrates plan, arguing it was impossible for magistrates to meet President Mutharika without his consent and presence.

Mvula said a team from the Judiciary met the National Assembly last week where several issues were discussed including the magistrates’ conditions of service.

“The issues are ongoing and are being looked into accordingly. For instance, we have a new set of terms and conditions which were fully endorsed by the former Chief Secretary for the Government Bright Msaka. So, all in all government is not just quiet about their demands,” he added.

Since their last industrial action in 2012, magistrate in the country have been up and about demanding for better perks, official vehicles and security personnel arguing that they remain the most marginalized group of workers in the Judiciary despite being in forefront of justice delivery.

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