Civil society organisations (CSOs) under the banner of Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) have questioned the independence of Attorney General (AG) Charles Mhango as defence lawyer in a K270.4 billion claim by business mogul Leston Mulli and his enterprises.
In a statement issued yesterday, the CSOs, while applauding the Malawi Government for challenging the claim for alleged loss of business following a 2012 order by the State, argue that Mhango—who is also governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legal director—is compromised to handle the case.
Given the political status of Mhango, HRDC, in the statement jointly signed by HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo, vice-chairperson Gift Trapence and regional chairpersons, said it was wary and uncertain if the defence is in good faith and would be pursued with the seriousness it deserves.
Reads the statement in part: “Without pre-empting the courts, we hold that this claim is baseless, inconsiderate and selfish and does not come close to something legit. This is clearly thievery being masqueraded as something legitimate.
“We at the Human Rights Defenders Coalition would like to echo our own calls that Charles Mhango is very partisan and, therefore, not fit for the position of Attorney General. He has to resign or be fired. The claim in question is just too huge a sum to gamble with a compromised lead defence lawyer.”
They cite Mhango’s decision in the K2.7 billion Malawi Police Service (MPS) food rations scam where his office volunteered to be third defendant and went on to execute a consent order committing the Malawi Government to pay part of the sums supplier Pioneer Investments owed privately-owned CDH Investment Bank.
“We all know that part of these funds [about K145 million] from the Pioneer Investment deal ended in a Democratic Progressive Party bank account whose sole signatory is the President Peter Mutharika.
“We, therefore, demand that government fires the Attorney General and bring on board a non-partisan person to lead the department, especially on this delicate case. We are looking for someone that Malawians can trust,” adds the statement.
In an interview yesterday, Trapence said that HRDC would challenge the matter in court if Mhango is not replaced.
But in a separate interview, Malawi Law Society (MLS) president Alfred Majamanda said the AG, as the chief legal adviser to the government, is expected to provide impartial legal advice and not be compromised in the execution of his duties.
He said: “The President can remove the AG from office on grounds of incompetence, incapacity or being compromised in the exercise of his duties to the extent that his ability to give impartial legal advice is seriously in question.
“The removal of the AG can, thus, happen if the President takes heed of the calls being made by CSOs. We hope that the rationale behind these calls will be scrutinised by the responsible authorities so that, in the end, the rule of law should be observed.”
Both Mhango and government spokesperson Nicholas Dausi, who is also Minister of Information and Communications Technology, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
But in a recent interview with our sister newspaper Nation on Sunday, Mhango dismissed accusations that he was partisan, arguing that he was not the first person to be AG while active in mainstream politics. He said the law allows the same.
He said: “In my scenario, the political party I am giving advice to is a ruling party; therefore, I do not see any conflict of interest. However, in my advice as Charles Mhango, I do not show my party colours because I advise the Speaker, I advise the Chief Justice and I advise all the three arms of government. I don’t, in my work, demonstrate any party colours.”
In the K270.4 billion compensation claim from business mogul Leston Mulli and his enterprises, the AG filed a statement of defence dated October 11 2018 in which his office asked the court to dismiss the application for lack of basis.
The AG argues that contrary to the claimants’ claims, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs on August 22 2014 revoked the said order to government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to stop sidelining them from business transactions.
Reads in part the defence: “The defendant [Attorney General] refers to paragraphs 2, 3, 6 and 7 of the claimant’s [Mulli] statement of case and denies that the defendant is a tortfeaser in the proceedings, as the claimant alleged cause of action arose from the alleged letter dated September 5 2012 by the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs and Attorney General, offices held by an individual as a public officer, who wrote the alleged letter in the alleged public misfeasance.”
In the claim, Mulli, trading as Zao Marketing Agencies, is the first claimant with Mulli Brothers Limited as second claimant, Sunrise Pharmaceuticals Limited being third claimant, the yet-to-roll-out mobile phone network operator Celcom Limited as fourth claimant and National Bus Company and Chombe Foods Limited as fifth and sixth claimants.
The claimants contend that the order by then minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Ralph Kasambara saw MDAs stopping to trade with them. They add that the order also froze payments for previous contracts.
The present case comes weeks after Mulli, Sunrise Pharmaceuticals Limited and Chombe Foods Limited on October 2 2018 obtained a court order gagging United Transformation Movement (UTM) members from making statements connecting Mulli and his businesses to a multi-billion kwacha compensation claim against the Attorney