Nkhata Bay businessperson Watson Katawa is taking Malawiâ€™s former minister of Information and Civic Education Patricia Kaliati and five other Cabinet ministers to court for sedition following remarks at their late night news conference that attempted to undermine then VP Joyce Banda and constitutional order.
Katawa, who runs Katawa Bus Services, said in an interview on Moday he has been advised to place charges of sedition and conduct likely to cause breach of peace against the six because the aim of the press conference was to create chaos and confusion in the country.
Late on April 6 2012, a day after president Bingu wa Mutharika had suffered a cardiac arrest at the New State House and airlifted to South Africa, Kaliati accompanied by fellow Cabinet ministers at the time Symon Vuwa Kaunda (Sports), Dr Jean Kalilani (Health) and Henry Mussa (Local Government and Rural Development) and deputy ministers Nicholas Dausi (in the Office of the President and Cabinet), and Kondwani Nakhumwa (Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation), said Banda could not assume the presidency because she formed her own political party, the Peopleâ€™s Party (PP).
But by operation of Section 83 (4) of the Constitution, Banda automatically became President following Mutharikaâ€™s incapacitation and subsequent death.
Katawa, who is pursuing the matter as a concerned citizen, has already instructed his lawyers, Banda, Banda & Company, to start legal proceedings against Kaliati and the ministers who were at the news conference.
“My interest is not all the ministers who were in the meeting [that planned to ignore constitutional order], but the ones who addressed the press conference,” said Katawa, who previously walked from Usisya to Nkhata Bay District Council offices to present a petition when prominent private practice lawyer-cum human rights activist and politician Ralph Kasambara was arrested.
He said he initially wanted to place treason charges against the six for seeking to block a constitutionally elected vice-president from assuming the presidency.
Katawa said he has no political interest and that he was not influenced by any inducement apart from ensuring that peace and order prevail in the country.
“I am a businessman. I run Katawa Bus Services and I will pay the legal fees from my pocket as a concerned citizen and not from any political interest and I wish they could answer the charges while they are still Cabinet ministers,” he said.
The Malawi Law Society (MLS) condemned the ministers for suggesting, during the press conference, that Bandaâ€™s formation of PP precluded her from being eligible to acsend to the presidency.
The news conference came after Banda had addressed the media, advocating the respect of Section 83 (4) of the Constitution. Her sentiments were echoed by former president Bakili Muluzi at a separate press briefing.
The lawyers, who have been approached to start the legal proceedings, declined to comment yesterday, saying there were few technical issues to be concluded before taking the next step.
However, MLS president John-Gift Mwakhwawa on Monday said the law provides for private prosecution, but that some cases can only be pursued privately after obtaining a consent from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Mwakhwawa said at the moment, MLS has not acted on calls for it to take up the matter. However, MLS secretary general Bright Theu is on record as expressing hope that the ministers would be dragged to court to face treason charges.
Banda, who was expelled from the late Mutharikaâ€™s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in December 2010 for allegedly forming parallel structures, was sworn in as President on April 7 2012 in line with the constitutional order.
â€”On April 9 2012, the Office of the President and Cabinet denied organising a â€˜Cabinetâ€™ meeting which discussed succession, and delegating Kaliati and company to make the announcement that apparently attempted to block then vice-president Joyce Banda from assuming the presidency.
â€”The Malawi Law Society, in a statement, said the ministers who addressed the news conference should be dragged to court and face treason charges for convening a â€˜Cabinetâ€™ meeting without legal authority.