Speaker of Parliament Henry Chimunthu Banda and his Clerk-turned nemesis on Wednesday met for the first time since May 2012, this time bound together by law in a hot Industrial Relations Court (IRC) room.
In a near comedy court session where the State was to parade its three witnesses in Katopola’s constructive dismissal application, Chimunthu Banda came in as witness of the court after almost an hour of lawyers battling the materiality of the Speaker in the witness stand.
The State represented by senior State advocate Zolomphi Nkowani was clearly not in favour of Chimunthu Banda appearing and raised objections to a September 2013 subpoena sworn by Katopola’s lawyer Samuel Tembenu forcing the Speaker’s appearance.
“We really don’t see the materiality of the Speaker appearing in person because all the same we shall present all the documents he is wanted for,” Nkowani told the court in seeking leave of the subpoena.
But Tembenu insisted that Chimunthu Banda was a crucial witness in the matter and, therefore, cannot be excused and exchanged with former MP Makala Ngozo who the State had brought in court.
Other witnesses were Deputy Clerk of Parliament Henry Njolomole and Katopola’s former secretary Patricia Kamwana.
“It is much more beneficial to the matter that the crucial witnesses appear than having a bunch of witnesses most of whom will only present hearsay. Chimunthu Banda is not just any person, he is a crucial person in this matter,” argued Tembenu.
Deputy chairperson Chimwemwe Kamowa agreed with Tembenu and eventually Chimunthu Banda appeared wearing his usual smart suits and a broad smile.
He sat majestically next to lawyer Apoche Itimu who accompanied Nkowani comfortably answering questions as he was taken through a bunch of documents Katopola tendered in court as evidence that she was constructively dismissed.
But the smiles were short-lived because when Tembenu turned to cross-examine him, the Speaker, famed for his emphatic responses, almost lost his cool at the lawyer’s insistence at close-ended questions begging yes or no answers.
“My lady I think I must say that my coming here is for the respect of the court so I hope I was not called here to be ridiculed,” he fumed.
That time, Tembenu wanted Chimunthu Banda to answer yes or no on whether President Joyce Banda was part and parcel of the decision to send Katopola out of Parliament.
For Chimunthu Banda, the President was part of a process as espoused under that law that only the President can remove the Clerk of Parliament (CoP) on three main grounds.
These are incapacity, bankruptcy and misconduct, all of which Chimunthu Banda confirmed were not levelled against Katopola who was never heard by the Parliamentary Service Commission at any point.
Katopola is contesting that the commission’s conduct amounted to constructive dismissal. She also wants the court to rule that she was unfairly dismissed and there was unfair labour practice.
The State, on the other hand, is arguing that Katopola was never dismissed because, among others, she continued drawing her benefits, including her child’s school fees as testified by secretary Kamwana.
Njolomole also insisted that “as far as I am concerned, Mrs. Katopola remains the COP” although he failed to back his action not to release an official vehicle to Katopola who had twice written him for the same at the time he was acting COP.
The court has given both sides 14 working days to make their written submissions before Kamowa can make a ruling.