Malawiâ€™s Clerk of Parliament Matilda Katopola on Tuesday appeared before the Lilongwe Chief Resident Magistrateâ€™s Court in the capital, where she pleaded not guilty to two charges of abuse of office and failure to declare interest in award of contracts.
The hearing, a low key event witnessed by a few onlookers, family and friends, marks the return of the controversial awarding of K87 000 (about $343) contract to her Monik Trends firm in September 2007, a matter that saw her fired and then reinstated by the then president the late Bingu wa Mutharika.
With the formal charge, it means Katopola cannot return to work as she faces interdiction until the matter is completed, according to the Malawi Public Service Regulations (MPSR).
This is against the background where President Joyce Banda recently refused to fire the CoP due to procedural issues.
The Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC), chaired by Speaker Henry Chimunthu Banda, on May 21 2012 recommended to the President that Katopola be dismissed, but did not state the reasons.
Katopola was arrested and questioned by police on charges they did not disclose at the time.
Dressed in a white jacket, black dress and matching black high-heeled shoes and silver round earrings, Katopola arrived at the court at 1.59pm accompanied by four ladies and spent sometime in her silver Toyota Camry before coming out to chat with her friends and family.
“Not guilty,” said Katopola softly at 2.20pm as chief resident magistrate Ruth Chinangwa finished reading the first charge of abuse of public office contrary to Section 95 (1) of the Penal Code.
The charge relates to the award of the contract to Monik Trends.
Katopola, looking composed, made the same plea as Chinangwa explained the second charge of failure to disclose interest in awarding of contract contrary to Section 25 (d) 2 (a) of the Penal Code as read together with Section 34 of the Corrupt Practices Act.
The first charge carries a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment with hard labour and the second one up to 12 years imprisonment, according to lead prosecutor, police officer-in-charge for prosecution Happy Mkandawire.
Mkandawire, who is being assisted by police legal adviser Dennis Chipao, told the court that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had already granted consent for the matter.
Katopolaâ€™s lawyer Yambani Mulemba asked for 21 days after disclosure of evidence, to which Chinangwa granted an adjournment to September 25 2012 for hearing.
The late president Bingu wa Mutharika appointed Matilda Katopola as the first female Clerk of Parliament in 2005.
Since her appointment, Katopola has faced pressure from some Members of Parliament to leave office. Sources say she has been unpopular among the legislators for reportedly introducing strict controls.