Dust is refusing to settle on the controversy surrounding the K53.9 billion Immigration Department uniforms supply deal with Parliament Secretariat and the Attorney General differing on its status in court.
While Parliament Secretariat’s legal department has stopped the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) from summoning top government officials to explain queries relating to the deal purportedly because the issue is in court, government’s chief legal adviser, Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale, said yesterday the matter was concluded.
He faulted the conduct of Parliament Secretariat on the issue, highlighting that his office was not consulted in putting up a legal opinion issued to PAC.
Kaphale said: “I was neither consulted when the invitations
were done and neither have I been consulted on the issue of subjudice. Actually, I have not received any invitation to appear before the committee as we speak. I wish the subjudice opinion was matter specific.”
The Attorney General’s sentiments were in reaction to the legal opinion from the office of the Clerk of Parliament (CoP) to PAC which said, quoting parliamentary standing order 192 (1), the top government officials could not appear before the committee because the matter was in court.
PAC chairperson Alekeni Menyani also challenged the legal opinion, saying Section 60(3) of the Constitution which empowers his oversight committee to make inquiries overrides any parliamentary standing order.
He also said PAC’s inquiry was on how the suppliers arrived at the K53.9 billion claim from an initial K9 billion contract.
Earlier this week, PAC expressed shock at the K53 billion claim which, among other things, pegs a single uniform shirt for an Immigration officer at about K60 000 and in some cases a belt at K100 000.
Top government officials in Immigration, Attorney General and Secretary to the Treasury as well as representatives of the suppliers, Africa Commercial Agency and Reliance Trading Company, were scheduled to appear before PAC today to explain the claim.
In 2012, the Immigration Department entered into a K9 billion contract with Africa Commercial Agency and Reliance Trading Company to supply uniforms and other accessories. However, delivery only started five years after the deal was signed.
In the legal opinion to PAC that we have seen, Parliament’s legal department said while it recognised PAC’s powers under the Constitution to conduct investigation, the committee should consider the subjudice rule under Standing Order of Parliament 192.
The legal opinion observed that the inquiry which the committee intended to carry out concerned a matter which was in the Commercial Division of the High Court at Lilongwe Registry.
“The case is at a point where mandatory mediation, as per court procedures, has failed and the matter is proceeding to full trial. The parties are currently waiting for the court to allocate dates. As soon as this is done, the matter will proceed,” it reads.
The legal opinion explained that one of the major issues in contention, between government and the two companies, was whether or not there was a contract between the parties and each party to this lawsuit has its own position on the matter.
“It will be difficult for the witnesses summoned to answer questions from the committee without touching on the very same issue which are to be adjudicated on by the court,” it said.
But Menyani said the committee would exercise its constitutional mandate which cannot be overridden or frustrated by a mere rule of procedure since carrying out the investigations would not violate the subjudice rule.
He argued that the committee was enquiring into how government would have committed itself to such a K53.9 billion contract.
During his news conference in Lilongwe on Wednesday, estranged Vice-President Saulos Chilima reiterated his condemnation of corruption and nepotism, citing recent corruption revelations, including the controversial K53.9 billion claim.