The First Grade Magistrate’s Court in Lilongwe has set September 19 2018 to continue hearing a case in which former ministers Friday Jumbe and Phillip Bwanali were alleged to have abused K11 million from government in 2004.
The funds allegedly disappeared from the Sports and Culture Trust Fund when Bwanali was minister of Sports while Jumbe was minister of Finance, during the United Democratic Front (UDF) regime.
The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) arrested the two, alongside the then chairperson of the Sports and Culture Trust Fund, Vincent Mpaluko, for the offence.
In an interview, Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal and the High Court of Malawi registrar Agnes Patemba confirmed the case will resume soon.
She said: “The matter is on-going. It came to the High Court for judicial review and it came before Justice [Chifundo] Kachale. There was an application that he should recuse himself from the matter and the State made several applications regarding the evidence.”
In 2008, the court found Jumbe and Bwanali with a case to answer, but the case has dragged in the courts even after the State paraded 19 witnesses. The suspects are currently on bail.
The court last met in 2016 and entered the defence stage where Jumbe started to testify, but the case was adjourned.
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, State lawyer Gabriel Chembezi attributed the delay to hear the case to, among other things, a demand by the defence team to be furnished with some Cabinet notes as part of the evidence.
He said: “We now have managed to find at least one-third of the Cabinet notes which have been submitted to the courts and we are now waiting for the court to set a date for the next hearing.”
One of the defence lawyers, Maxwell Tembo, told Weekend Nation that his clients are waiting for the State to act on the court order and submit to the court the demanded documents.
Legal expert Justin Dzonzi said he was of the view that government is not willing to prosecute with speed corruption cases involving influential politicians.
In an interview on Wednesday, he pointed out that there are a good number of politicians answering corruption-related charges whose cases have not been concluded for a long time.
“There could be more than what meets the eye,” said Dzonzi who, for instance, questioned an injunction Jumbe sought in 2014 compelling the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to declare the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as a winner adding: “So quite clearly the circumstances point towards some kind of a compromise deal between DPP and him, [Jumbe]. ‘You scratch my back and I scratch yours’.”
The legal expert, who is also executive director of Justice Link, also laid the blame on the Judiciary, saying the courts have powers to police the flow of litigation.
“A judge should be able to say, ‘look this case dates back to 2004 or 2005 and there is no way the court can stretch it for another 15 years with no end to it and, therefore, expedite the processes’,” he said.
Jumbe was charged with misuse of office and gross negligence by a public officer for advancing the K11 million to the Ministry of Sports which Bwanali allegedly took and gave to Mpaluko for the purchase of some footballs that were said to have been distributed to United Democratic Front (UDF) candidates in the May 2004 general elections.
Bwanali, a former UDF legislator for Thyolo North Constituency under UDF, is facing charges of misuse of office, gross negligence by a public officer in preserving money, theft by a public servant, uttering a false document and obtaining money by false pretence.