he ghosts of the heady days following Bingu wa Mutharika’s death are returning to haunt Malawi’s President Joyce Banda after analysts said she should apologise to Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo for accusing him of being part of a plot to stop her from taking over the presidency.
Banda told The Guardian newspaper of the UK in April 2012 that Munlo had participated in a conspiracy to foil her swearing in as president because, she claimed, he preferred Peter Mutharika who at the time was Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
But with Munlo cleared of wrongdoing by the Commission of Inquiry into Mutharika’s death, national coordinator for Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) Chris Chisoni and Chancellor College political scientist Joseph Chunga said the President owes the Chief Justice a public apology.
“It shows that the President was misinformed and said things based on hearsay; something not closer to the truth. Since she was misinformed and acted on wrong information, it is right that she clarifies issues out of integrity and say sorry. She cannot be exonerated by saying she was misinformed,” said Chisoni.
He said the President dented Munlo’s image and lowered people’s estimation of the Chief Justice’s office.
Chunga, who is also president of the Political Science Association, said Banda’s utterances against Munlo bordered on character assassination.
“In so far as the report is concerned, we may argue that the Chief Justice did not take the role the President accused him of.
“As others take responsibility for their roles, including appearing before courts of law, it is only in order that Banda should also take responsibility and apologise to Munlo,” he said.
Presidential press secretary Steve Nhlane refused to comment on the calls for the President to apologise.
Instead, Nhlane directed vitriol at the reporter for asking him for a quick response on the issue.
“I think I deserve a bit of respect from you. It does not cost anything to be humble to other people. You can’t say a quick interview. Please answer the following questions. And expect to get answers. Am I your son? There is nothing like a quick interview. And I don’t have quick answers.
“You cannot command me. Go back to Journalism 101. You can go and jump into the Shire. I will not answer your questions,” charged Nhlane.
On his part, Munlo said on Friday he has left the issue to Malawians to judge.
“At that time, I said this is malicious…that there is no truth in it… The facts are out. The truth is known. I leave it to Malawians to judge for themselves.”
Meanwhile, the Malawi Law Society (MLS), which—after Banda’s accusations asked Munlo to resign to pave the way for investigations into his role in the alleged coup plot—has defended the position it took at the time.
“If you recall very well, certain ‘grave’ allegations were made against the [Chief Justice] in the media regarding his role in the alleged coup plot. The MLS felt that the said allegations had serious implications on the integrity, standing and public confidence of not only the Chief justice but the Judiciary as a whole.
“That is why MLS requested the Judicial Service Commission to investigate the allegations levelled against the Chief Justice,” said MLS secretary Felisah Kilembe.
Kilembe said to create conducive conditions for investigations, MLS also asked the Judicial Service Commission to allow the Chief Justice to resign as its chairperson and to appoint someone to act in the position to oversee the investigations.
“We felt that taking the above path was necessary to address the need for accountability and also afford the Chief Justice a formal forum and opportunity to be heard and also establish information that would meet the public quest for the truth; and foster the rule of law and public confidence in State institutions. The MLS never accused the Chief Justice of any wrongdoing; all we did was to request an investigation,” she said.
The Mutharika death inquiry established that while Munlo visited Peter Mutharika’s house twice on April 6 and 7 2012, the visits had nothing to do with making Peter president.
“From the totality of the evidence, the commission established that there were no judges who gathered at Honourable Peter Mutharika’s house on the 6th or 7th April 2012 for the purposes of swearing in Honourable Peter Mutharika as acting president of the country.
“The commission, however, established that the Chief Justice went to the house of Honourable Peter Mutharika on Friday, 6th and Saturday, 7th, April 2012 to offer his condolences to him on the death of the President as a family friend,” reads the report in part.
The report has led to the arrest of 11 DPP and top government officials for the roles they played in the aftermath of the late president’s death.
The 11 include the younger Mutharika, former Economic Planning and Development minister Goodall Gondwe, interdicted head of public service Bright Msaka and his deputy Necton Mhura.
Others are former Cabinet ministers Patricia Kaliati, Symon Vuwa Kaunda, Dr Jean Kalirani and Henry Mussa as well as former deputy ministers Kondwani Nankhumwa and Nicholas Dausi.
Some of the charges levelled against the suspects are treason, inciting mutiny and perjury.
For Mutharika, the case casts uncertainty over his bid to represent DPP in the 2014 presidential elections.
In the usually drawn-out treason cases, he could be moving from the courts to the political podium as campaign for the elections heats up.
How the case affects his chances of winning the presidency will depend on whether Malawians view him as a victim of political conspiracy or a mastermind of unconstitutional usurpation of power.