Attorney General (AG) Kalekeni Kaphale has rebuffed a request from the Office of the Ombudsman to reappear before the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament to explain his inaction on an investigative report on 24 000 people seeking compensation.
Last week, Ombudsman Martha Chizuma wrote the Legal Affairs Committee accusing it of flouting the law on procedure when the committee, together with the AG, discussed the merits and demerits of the report, ‘Malawi’s Unhealed Wounds.’
But in his letter dated December 12 2018 addressed to the Ombudsman and copied to the chairperson of the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament Maxwell Thyolera, Kaphale said the Ombudsman should conduct refresher courses for the committee on its role before calling a meeting. The letter, however, ignored everything else the Ombudsman had earlier raised.
He said he is concerned with the revelation, saying these are done without the knowledge or presence of the AG’s office.
The AG also said the Ombudsman’s letter implied that the Office of the Ombudsman expected the committee to act in relation to his office on how she wants them to act.
Wrote Kaphale: “Honourable Ombudsman, in my view, that does not sit right with principles of transparency and avoidance of conflict of interest and it appears your office wants to treat the honourable committee as some sort of puppet of your office, devoid of the ability to do its own reasoning?
“That is at the very least lamentable and not in keeping with principles of the Constitution. For now, that is all I can say about your said letter but my office hereby reserves all its other rights.”
In response in an interview yesterday, Chizuma said her office would be responding to the AG formally this morning.
She said: “I only saw his letter on Friday. I want to clarify his apparent misunderstanding of how these interfaces are undertaken. But all in all, my office will continue pursuing justice for these 24 000 by all legal means available.”
This is the second time for the Office of the Ombudsman to come into conflict with the AG’s Chambers which previously challenged in the High Court a report on the sale of tractors procured using a loan from India to politicians and civil servants.
Coincidentally, it was also Kaphale, whose initial three-year contract as AG expired on June 30 2017 before he was reappointed four weeks ago, who challenged that the Ombudsman had exceeded her mandate by demanding an apology to Malawians as her recommendation.
After the Ombudsman submitted the report titled Malawi’s Unhealed Wounds to Legal Affairs Committee last year, the AG did not act on the recommendations that his office initiates a negotiated settlement with the claimants’ representatives in the presence of a mutually agreed upon mediator with a timeframe of March 31 2018.
In the letter to the AG, the Ombudsman said using its powers of enforcement, the committee was only supposed to ask why the recommendations were not complied with and what would be done to ensure compliance and it was not their place to discuss the merits or demerits of the directives or recommendations made.
The Ombudsman’s report emanated from a year-long investigation which alleged maladministration involving the operationalisation and closure of the National Compensation Tribunal (NCT), leaving 24 000 claimants of the atrocities of the one-party State under Malawi Congress Party (MCP) not compensated despite their complaints being declared legitimate.n