Efforts by civil society organisations (CSOs) to move the contempt of court case against Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Minister George Chaponda sooner than January 31 faces hurdles. This is due to unavailability of a judge to hear the case at Mzuzu registry, The Nation has learnt.
CSOs told The Nation that Justice John Chirwa, who granted the injunction on January 12 restraining Chaponda from executing his duties until completion of a probe into the purchase of maize from Zambia and was assigned the contempt of court matter, is based in Blantyre where he is also carrying out duties.
According to lawyer for the CSOs, Wesley Mwafulirwa, Justice Chirwa will be back in Mzuzu on January 31, a day he is also supposed to determine on whether to lift the court order on Chaponda or not.
The CSOs want Chaponda arrested allegedly for travelling to Germany for a conference in violation of an injunction obtained against him.
Said Mwafulirwa: “We were allocated Justice Chirwa for the case, but he is based in Blantyre. The only date we know that he will be back in Mzuzu is 31 January when the court is supposed to deliver a ruling on the application by the Attorney General to have the injunction vacated.
“For instance, we may file documents for the case even today [Tuesday], but hearing requires that the judge must be present. It is not the fault of the judge, I must make this clear, because he is also carrying out other duties in Blantyre. The problem is the lack of adequate numbers of judges at Mzuzu registry.”
Mwafulirwa said they are working on a remedy on the issue, but could not disclose details.
He further said paperwork on the case is almost complete.
“We have Justice De Gabriel as resident judge, and Justice Madise [Dingiswayo] handling other cases. So, we are in a bit of a fix, but we are working on options which I cannot disclose now. But know that we are trying hard to make sure that justice takes its course,” said Mwafulirwa.
Asked whether the contempt of court case would still hold in case that the commission of inquiry exonerates Chaponda, A legal expert, who did not want to be mentioned said even if the court decides to lift Chaponda’s injunction on January 31, the embattled Agriculture Minister would still answer the contempt charge.
“He would still answer the contempt of court case. He has not respected the law at a time the order is in force, so he would still be answerable to that,” said the source.
In an interview on Monday, one of the CSO leaders, Moses Mkandawire of Church and Society programme of the CCAP Synod of Livingstonia, said in an interview they expected Chaponda to adhere to the court order.
“We expect each and every one of us to respect the Constitution; to respect court orders. But what sort of a society are we creating if a minister chooses to deliberately defy a court order? Is the law just meant for the poor, those being governed and not the authority?
“Remember, the Constitution of Malawi is founded upon underlying principles that include under Section 12 that all legal and political authority of the State derives from the people of Malawi and shall be exercised in accordance with it solely to serve and protect their interests. And the people stopped him from working, but he had decided otherwise, so on whose authority is he working?” he queried.
Speaking after obtaining the injunction on January 12, Kajoloweka fore-warned that failure by Chaponda to respect the law would result in a contempt of court case.
“We made calls for the President to act but he did not, hence resorting to the court for relief and we expect all those concerned to abide by the law because nobody is above the law in this country,” he said.
Meanwhile, government has chosen to remain silent on the alleged Chaponda’s trip to Germany for a conference.
Government spokesperson Nicholas Dausi, who is also Minister of Information and Communications Technology, State House press secretary Mgeme Kalilani and Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale have all refused to speak on the matter. n