Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has asked Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya to summon an emergency Parliament meeting to consider impeaching President Peter Mutharika over his alleged involvement in the K2.7 billion Malawi Police Service (MPS) food rations scam.
Msowoya has since responded to the letter by advising HRDC to identify a member of Parliament (MP) to submit a notice of motion on the matter in accordance with Standing Order 208 of the National Assembly.
But presidential press secretary Mgeme Kalilani said yesterday the HRDC will not succeed in its mission.
HRDC’s request follows a leaked Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) investigation report which showed that the food rations supplier, Pioneer Investment Limited, made an abortive interest claim of K466 million and deposited K145 million into the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) bank account at Standard Bank whose sole signatory is Mutharika.
Following the leakage, HRDC on July 1 2018 gave Mutharika 14 days to resign over the matter and later on July 18 gave him five days to pay back K145 million to government.
In the letter to Msowoya dated July 20 2018, HRDC asked the Speaker to call for an emergency sitting of Parliament to indict and convict Mutharika under impeachment procedures in line with Section 86 of the country’s Constitution.
The impeachment, according to HRDC, will be on grounds that Mutharika has seriously breached the Constitution and has breached written laws of Malawi.
DPP publicity secretary Nicholas Dausi said the civil society organisations (CSOs) do not have sufficient interest to make such a call, but legal scholar Edge Kanyongolo has said citizens have the right to demand anything legal and that there is nothing illegal in the CSOs’ demand.
But to call for a meeting of Parliament, the Speaker consults the President, a provision governance expert Augustine Magolowondo said makes it very unlikely for Mutharika to facilitate the meeting.
Yesterday, Msowoya acknowledged receipt of the letter and said he responded yesterday.
In his response, the Speaker said: “I have the honour to advise you that the Rules of the House require that a member of Parliament should bring a motion on the matter for debate by the House.
“In this regard, you may wish to identify a member of Parliament to submit a notice of motion on the subject matter in accordance with Standing Order 208 of the National Assembly. Please accept assurances of the highest consideration.”
Malawi Law Society (MLS) president Alfred Majamanda shared Magolowondo’s sentiments, saying while the CSOs can make such a call, the law only empowers the President and Speaker to consult and call for an extraordinary meeting of Parliament.
On earlier calls for Parliament to expedite the laying down of clearly laid down impeachment procedures for a sitting President and how the current issue fits in, Majamanda said MLS was only calling for the rules to be elaborate and clear.
He said: “The Standing Orders provide for the procedure for the removal of President or Vice-President. However, there is need for the member who wants to move the motion to give a notice of such intention signed by one third of the members of the Assembly to the office of the Speaker seven days before the motion to indict is moved in the Assembly.
“The question is, can this be achieved when Parliament is not in session? That is not clear from the procedure.”
Kalilani said the President is not losing sleep over this issue because he did nothing wrong.
He said: “The K145 million issue is not a Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika issue. The two CSOs are desperately trying to make it look like one for political reasons, but they will not succeed. The two CSOs have tried many times before to entangle the President with similar none issues but failed.”
But speaking on the legality of the call, Kanyongolo said: “Citizens can make such calls. They have the right to demand anything essentially if it is not illegal.”
However, he observed that Mutharika is an interested party; hence, one cannot be certain that the President may nod to Parliament’s convening.
Magolowondo also doubted that the process would be successful, especially as it plays into the May 2019 Tripartite Elections.
HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo has since commended the Speaker for his prompt response to their request, saying, they will follow the procedure.
Impeachment procedures for the President or Vice-President, as laid down in Section 208(1), state: “A member wishing to move a motion to indict the President or the Vice-President for impeachment shall give a notice of intention to move such a motion, signed by one-third of members of the Assembly to the office of the Speaker seven days before the motion to indict the President or the Vice-President on impeachment is moved in the Assembly.”
Subsection (12) states that the motion on the indictment shall be passed in a secret ballot, by not less than two-thirds of all Members of the National Assembly.
Section 209 reads: “(1) The Speaker shall, within 24 hours of the notice following a resolution on indictment cause a copy of the resolution to be transmitted to the Chief Justice who shall cause notice to be issued to the President of Vice President on the resolution of the indictment.
“(2) The Chief Justice shall, within seven days after receipt of the notice transmitted under Sub-Rule (1) constitute a tribunal comprising two Justices of the Supreme Court (excluding himself or herself) and a legal practitioner of good standing and with not less than 15 years experience at the bar to investigate the allegation in the indictment and to report its findings to the Assembly…”