A British lawyer Malawi Government hired in the treason case against former vice-president Cassim Chilumpha and Mangochi South legislator Yusuf Matumula is claiming Â£158 227.22 (about K70 million) in legal fees for this year alone.
The money is enough to buy about 47 ventilators which an activist says are in short supply in Malawiâ€™s main hospitals. Ventilators are used to assist patients with breathing problems.
It is also more than the K50 million allocated towards construction of the new Chikhwawa District Hospital in the 2011/12 national budget.
A letter from Antony Berry dated May 12 this year to former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Rosemary Kanyuka in the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, shows that the money is for his legal fees on the case for only five months.
The lawyer, who is Queenâ€™s Counsel (QC) in the UK, is claiming Â£8 000 (about K3.5 million) per week in legal fee charges from January 16 to May 21, translating into about K67 million for 19 weeks.
The claim also includes Â£6 227.22 (about K2.7 million) expenses towards flight bookings and amendments.
Wayforward on the case
Minister of Justice and Attorney General Ralph Kasambara this week said he was not aware of the claim, saying he needed to check with other authorities in his ministry.
But Kasambara said he was waiting for feedback from the DPP to decide the way forward on the case.
â€œI have not yet received feedback from the DPP on that case. I am expecting to get the feedback by Monday next week. We should be able to decide the way forward after that,â€ said Kasambara.
Waste of resources
Malawi Health Network (MHEN) executive director Martha Kwataine described governmentâ€™s payment of legal fees in the treason case as a waste of resources.
â€œItâ€™s a waste of resources, but the money has to be paid at all cost. This is why we say it is not good to do politics in everything. Why did government put somebody under house arrest when it had no evidence?
â€œWhen government becomes reckless in its decisions, it is taxpayers who pay for the recklessness. They still have to pay the money because any delays would attract interest charges,â€ said Kwataine.
She said the K70 million could buy 47 ventilators for the countryâ€™s hospital, saying one ventilator costs about K1.5 million. She added the money could also help alleviate many problems in the health sector and improve the welfare of health workers.
â€œThe 47 ventilators could go, not just to central hospitals but also district hospitals to resuscitate patients and help reduce neonatal deaths.
â€œCurrently, there is a sit-in at Bwaila Hospital in Lilongwe where medical workers are refusing to go on locum because the money is not enough. As a result, there are no nurses to attend to some pregnant mothers.
â€œThat money would buy drugs and yet we are wasting it because of politics. Sometimes when politicians are in power, what they prioritise is not a priority for Malawians,â€ said Kwataine.
Chilumpha, who is now Energy and Mining Minister in the Joyce Banda administration, and Matumula were arrested in 2006 on allegations that they were planning to assassinate late president Bingu wa Mutharika using hired assassins from South Africa in order to overthrow his government.
The case has dragged on ever since although government then said it had overwhelming evidence against the two.
Chilumpha and Mutharika fell out in 2005 after the former president left UDF, a party that sponsored him into power in 2004 to form DPP. Chilumpha remained in UDF until weeks ago when he joined President Joyce Bandaâ€™s Peopleâ€™s Party to become minister.