No thank you! Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale has declined to comment on calls for the arrest of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Minister George Chaponda who is reportedly in Germany on official duties despite a court order restraining him from conducting official assignments.
The Malawi Law Society told our sister paper Weekend Nation yesterday that if it were true that the minister travelled to Germany on Thursday in his official capacity, then he is in contempt of court. Representatives of civil society organisations that sought an injunction to stop the minister from working, said they would move the courts on the purported contempt of court.
But government’s chief legal adviser Kaphale, who filed a defence for Chaponda against the initial injunction the High Court granted to civil society groups, yesterday refused to comment on the fate of the minister.
“That proposition [on whether Chaponda has travelled on official duty or not] is being made in a context of a possible contempt of court case. In a contempt of court case, unlike when the whole government is sued, it is an individual who is prosecuted and in this case it will be the minister being prosecuted. For that reason, I would not want to say anything that can be incriminating to the minister. In such a circumstance, the rightful person to speak is the minister himself,” he said.
But Danwood Chirwa, a legal expert based at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, said Chaponda must be prosecuted if he is proven to have conducted government business.
“If it can be shown that he has travelled on duty as minister, he would be liable for prosecution on a charge of contempt of court. Apart from reflecting poorly on his character as far as humility and integrity are concerned, this behaviour is worrying for the rule of law and constitutionalism whether he is genuinely aggrieved with the High Court order or not. It also does little to assuage the concerns of those who think that the government is not interested in investigating maizegate objectively and in good faith—all its efforts seem to be directed at absolving him from responsibility.
“As for the President, he is seemingly complicit in disobeying the order of the court. He too is flouting the Constitution, which some might consider serious enough to trigger impeachment. All it takes is an organised opposition party. So far they are getting away with this recalcitrant behaviour,” said Chirwa.
German Ambassador to Jurgen Borsch confirmed to Weekend Nation that Chaponda was invited by the German government through the German Minister of Agriculture in December for a conference in Berlin, but said he was not aware whether the minister took the trip or not.
“I know he has received a long-standing invitation of the German Minister of Agriculture. It was extended in December, but I do not have any details,” said Borsch. n