Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs plans to computerise the civil registry to minimise the number of default judgements entered against government agencies which lead to loss of public money.
The development has come at a time the High Court of Malawi has awarded a South African miner $100 million (about K69 billion) compensation in a case in which the government was caught napping and did not contest the claim in the courts.
Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale has since filed a notice of appeal following a public outcry after learning that government did not go to court to challenge the claim.
Currently, the ministry uses a manual record keeping system which takes longer to retrieve files and has on many occasions resulted in some files going missing.
According to the performance contract which the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu signed with President Peter Mutharika last month as part of the Public Service Reforms Commission programme of work, the system would be able to track the progress of cases from start to finish.
Further, the system would also align the case with the ministry or department concerned for easy monitoring of implementation of court judgements with ease.
Reads the contract in part: “An intra-net system to be developed will help to keep civil registry data in a server that will be accessible by the Attorney General, the Solicitor General and all lawyers within the section.”
However, the exercise will require K10 million which the government has to provide through the national budget.
“The system cannot provide accurate statistics on government’s liability per ministry or department level and the general trend on cases that have a high prevalence,” adds the contract.
Former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Kamudoni Nyasulu said the system was long overdue, especially after what has happened in recent years where civil cases were lost which the government could have successfully defended.
“From what I am seeing now, a computerised civil registry has become very important. It should go further to connect it to the payment system of the Accountant General’s office. From what we are hearing in courts, this is how some Cashgate activities happened,” he said.
Meanwhile, prosecution agencies such as Malawi Police Service (MPS), DPP and Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), which have been working without a guiding policy on how to effectively handle criminal cases, will have one soon.
Section 99 of the Constitution mandates the DPP as the sole authority for prosecutions for the government, but ACB and MPS prosecutors have to seek consent from the DPP before embarking on criminal cases.
According to Section 100, “powers as are vested in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions may be exercised by the person appointed to that office or such other persons in the public service, acting as his or her subordinates and in accordance with his or her general and specific instructions in accordance with an Act of Parliament.”
However, there has been no policy outlining the operational framework, philosophy, and methodology to be followed for all public prosecutions by the ACB, DPP and Police.
“The policy will help the DPP to continue to play a greater role in upholding the rule of law and in shaping and ensuring an effective, robust, and dynamic legal system which is essential for socio-economic development and public confidence in the criminal justice system that will ensure public safety, fair trials, and effective and timely disposal of cases,” the contract reads.
Nyasulu, who was engaged as special prosecutor of Cashgate cases, said there was need for a clear demarcation on the administrative and management arrangements of the prosecutorial bodies.
He recalled that when he left office as DPP in 1999, there was a prolonged battle between the ACB and the DPP over responsibility for criminal cases and the same happened in 2011 over who would prosecute cases bordering on theft of government money.
To fulfil its contractual obligations, the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs has to facilitate the development of a Cabinet paper for submission to Cabinet by June this year and the exercise is expected to cost K20 million ($28 860) which the government will fund.