Some disgruntled members of the Malawi Law Society (MLS) have prepared yet another petition to call for an extraordinary general meeting where, among other issues, they want to have the entire lawyers’ executive committee ousted.
The fresh petition comes after the MLS executive committee rejected an earlier petition, dated March 16 2020 by the disgruntled members that also wanted the executive committee to step down.
A representative of the disgruntled members, who still want to have his name withheld, accused some MLS executive committee members of favouring a particular political party.
But MLS president Burton Mhango, in an interview yesterday, challenged the ‘disgruntled members’ to come in the open and state their case than hiding behind members of the society.
“Actually, we consider it that there was no petition because it did not meet the requirements. Secondly, MLS is a transparent professional body and we operate within the law. We do everything openly.
“But if you talk of a petition and you want my reaction to it, I don’t know about any petition and it’s difficult for me to comment on a thing that is not there. There was never a petition,” Mhango said.
The initial petition was rejected through a response by the MLS executive committee dated March 23 2020, and it cited a number of technicalities, including the ‘disgruntled members’ failure to solicit enough signatories to the petition, as the basis for the rejection.
MLS secretary Martha Kaukonde, in a separate interview on Thursday, said the lawyers’ body is a transparent and professional institution and its membership generally operates likewise.
“At the moment, what we know is what is in the [initial rejected] petition and in the response [we gave]. Either as a member of needs over K100 billion to effectively respond to the global pandemic, a development that has prompted the committee to ask government to prioritise Covid-19 fight to the presidential fresh elections.
Chairperson of the committee, who is also Minister of Health, Jappie Mhango told a news conference in Lilongwe yesterday that the new case in Blantyre is currently on quarantine and under serious medical supervision.
“This patient recently travelled to the UK [United Kingdom] and was in self-quarantine. Tests were done yesterday at the College of Medicine laboratory where it was confirmed that the results are positive,” said Mhango without revealing the location and age of the patient, to avoid stigma.
President Peter Mutharika announced the first three cases, which are from one household in Lilongwe’s Area 9.
Malawi was among few countries that had not registered a single case until Thursday this week.
Mhango said to effectively deal with Covid-19 Malawi needs over K100 billion, saying the initially announced K15 billion was only for one cluster of health as there are more clusters in the national response plan.
He said so far Treasury has disbursed K2.4 billion—half of which has been allocated to local councils.
While the minister could not explicitly state the expenditure plan of the proposed K100 billion, he indicated that part of the expenditure in the health cluster will include recruitment of 3 000 health workers across cadres to beef up the over-strained health workforce as well as procuring 5 000 extra- testing kits.
Commenting on the K100 billion budget, Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen) executive director George Jobe said government ought to come out clearly on its expenditure plan.
He said while the proposed amount may be ideal, government must explain to taxpayers to appreciate the expenditure.
Jobe also faulted the Cabinet committee for making some decisions unilaterally without engaging relevant stakeholders.
“The need to solicit views wide and far. They must not be making decisions without consulting. They talked about K15 billion being set aside and now K100 billion—they need to explain and have stakeholders give their views,” he said, further calling on Capital Hill to act with speed to recruit new health personnel.
Looking at the proposed budget in relation to fiscal pressure facing Malawi, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health Dan Namarika said government should priortise Covid-19 over elections expenditure.
Namarika said the right to life must reign supreme, adding that the on-going voters registration taking place in some parts of the country threatens efforts to contain the Covid-19 as such an exercise defies social distancing, a recommended precautionary measure.
Namarika also said he submitted a report to the Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD) where among other issues has expressed reservations with voter registration in preparation for the Constitutional Court ordered fresh presidential elections.
“There is a requirement that all people coming into Malawi from countries that all have confirmed cases of coronavirus should go into 14-day self-quarantine or even institutional quarantine. These people will therefore, not be available to participate in other communal programmes such as voter registration let alone participate on the elections themselves. These people will thereby be denied their other right,” reads the letter to CMD director Kizito Tenthani dated March 31 2020.
In the letter, Namarika says Malawi may experience high number of sick people and deaths due to Covid-19 as indicated in the preliminary modelling results.
He added: “Both coronavirus and elections require intense
aware of any other steps after the response and cannot ably comment on matters that I haven’t come across,” Kaukonde said.MLS or as its secretary, I am not
But asked how they submitted a petition that had no required number of signatories—which is one-third of the MLS membership— the representative of the disgruntled members said most members had not renewed their membership and this reflected when the MLS executive committee crosschecked their paid-up members.
Only 142 members against 440 members had signed the petition. The team is this time around, optimistic to beat the threshold.
In the fresh petition, the disgruntled members accuse their body of failing them and members of the public on various aspects.
They also fault the body’s acceptance of the procurement of foreign lawyers by Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) for the presidential elections case, and MLS’s inaction following refusal by MEC chairperson and her commissioners to step down after a recommendation from Parliament.
The disgruntled lawyers in their fresh petition state that the motivation of their petition is that the petitioning members have observed increased negative publicity and increased failure to take action on the part of the MLS on matters of public interest.
The lawyers want to find out if at all, the procurement of the foreign lawyers by the Attorney General (AG) and MEC was in compliance with applicable laws, mainly the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act.
“Where the meeting shall find that there was noncompliance with logistical support in form of vehicles and other services. Therefore, having elections against a disease that is pandemic on the global space and a threat to our own country would be wise of Malawi as a country”
Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) is currently conducting voter registration in some districts across the country—Karonga, Chitipa, Salima , Dedza, Ntcheu, Blantyre, Chikwawa and Nsanje—starting from yesterday, April 4 to April 17 2020.
From our random checks in some districts where registration is taking place, the indication is that registration has started on a low note, largely for lack of proper civic education, according to one MEC official deployed in the Northern Region. The official said they are observing social distance.
But Namarika contended that there are over 5 000 people under surveillance who may easily come into contact with others during voter registration, thereby aggravating the situation.
But in a written response MEC publicist Sangwani Mwafulirwa said MEC staff have been trained to enforce social distance; hence no cause for worry.
Following the confirmation of a new infection, Malawi is among nine other African countries that have registered new Covid-19 cases as of yesterday afternoon. Morocco had the highest number of new infections after authorities there confirmed 67 positive Covid-19 tests.
Senegal recorded the second highest number of cases, at 17, followed by Kenya and Ethiopia who registered four and three cases respectively. There was also one new infection each in Togo, Chad, Cape Verde and Djibouti.
Kenyan media reports indicated that two of the four people whose cases were confirmed yesterday had passed through Malawi.
Globally, there were at least 21 714 new infections, with most of the new cases having been identified in Europe and Asia. Spain had the highest number of new infections with 124 736, followed by UK (3 735), Iran (2 560) and Belgium (1 161). n
the meeting shall consider passing a resolution for the society to retract the ‘No Objection’ letter of March 10 2020 to the Chief Justice regarding the admission of the lawyers and, thereafter, to object the admission, if not done already; if done, to make an application to have the said admission reviewed for a possible revocation,” they state.the law in the [procurement] then
The disgruntled lawyers say they would also pass a resolution for MLS to demand cancellation of the contract between MEC and Mboweni Maluleke, another South African lawyer who signed a K600 million contract with MEC as the electoral body was preparing for the appeal presidential election case.
But in rejecting the initial petition, the executive committee, in a letter to the petitioners signed by MLS secretary, Kaukonde, says the rule is for a petition to be signed for by one-third of the general membership.
“As it is, with only 142 names listed and without proof of signature, the petition faces technical challenges and it cannot be a legal basis for the executive committee to call for an extra-ordinary general meeting.
“The executive committee has also noted the consequential relief proposed to be sought…shall not be moved at any meeting of the society unless at least 14 days’ notice thereof has been given to the members of the society.
“The proposed petition received and dated March 15 2020 sets the extra-ordinary general meeting for March 26 2020. As it is, with only 11 days between 15th and 26th March 2020, the proposed petition faces yet another technical challenge and cannot be a legal basis for the executive committee to call for an extra-ordinary general meeting,” the executive committee argues.
On alleged lack of MLS objection to MEC on appointment of foreign lawyers in the presidential election case, the executive committee explained that on March 10 2020, secretary of the MLS was served with copy of request made to the Chief Justice from Churchill & Norris.
“The full paperwork received is attached and is marked Annex I. Annex I shows that each of the two foreign lawyers satisfies the checklist in Section 25(a)-(e) of the Act.
“Members will kindly observe that under Section 25(a)-(e), MLS has no right of access to the Solicitor-Client contract between the foreign lawyer and the local client.
“Members will also note that in Annex I, Churchill & Norris did not provide the agreement between MEC and the foreign lawyers, and there is no obligation to so provide under section 25,” MLS explains.
“Members will kindly recall that previous MLS leaderships have attempted to object to engagement of foreign [lawyers] in Malawi under section 12(2) of the repealed [Act].
“That provision was word for word with the current section 25. On all occasions, the Supreme Court of Appeal has dismissed the MLS objection; see for example Malawi Law Society v. Clive Stanbrook QC …and Malawi Law Society v. Anthony Charles Berry QC Civil Cause No. 197 of 2007.
“MLS could not, therefore, be heard to object to the request presented by Churchill & Norris. That is the context in which the MLS secretary issued the no objection letter of 10th March 2020,” the executive committee explains.
The lawyers’ body says it fully shares the dismay and regrets the situation created by section 25 of the Act by which foreign lawyers can easily move into the jurisdiction and reap millions of kwacha without any control whatsoever by the MLS.
On alleged failure to take necessary action against MEC for resisting implementation of the High Court Judgement, MLS executive says it has taken several steps in protecting public interest concerning the presidential election, including their position that 50 percent +1 to be considered as the true meaning of majority.