Malawi President Peter Mutharika has warned some Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) officials that were charged with treason against suing government, saying such a move is tantamount to biting the hand that feeds them.
The President has also made it clear that whoever wants to sue government should leave the party.
Nine DPP officials were arrested in April 2012 in connection with their alleged role in the aftermath of the death of former president Bingu wa Mutharika and the power transition that ushered in the then Vice-President Joyce Banda.
The officials arrested were Mutharika himself, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe, Minister of Labour and Manpower Development Henry Mussa, Minister of Gender, Child and Social Welfare Patricia Kaliati, Minister of Health Jean Kalirani, Minister of Information, Tourism and Culture Kondwani Nankhumwa, Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Bright Msaka, National Intelligence Bureau boss Nicholas Dausi and presidential adviser on national unity and parliamentary affairs Symon Vuwa Kaunda.
The people were serving in the previous DPP administration in various capacities as Cabinet ministers and civil servants.
In June this year, former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Bruno Kalemba discontinued their case because Mutharika, as Head of State, is immune to prosecution under Section 91(2) of the Constitution.
Mussa, Kaliati, Kalirani, Nankhumwa, Msaka, Dausi and Vuwa Kaunda demanded compensation from government for false imprisonment.
They hired Kalekeni Kaphale Lawyers to make the claim. Kaphale wrote the Attorney General (AG) on August 11 2014 seeking “compensation for false imprisonment, defamation and malicious prosecution.”
A week later, Mutharika summoned all DPP officials that were suspects in the treason case to Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe where he expressed concern about their intention to sue government.
According to sources familiar with the issue, the President told the treason suspects that it did not make sense for them to sue government for compensation because there is no money to pay them.
Said one source: “The President also told them that their party, DPP, is in government and suing government would mean suing DPP which they cannot do when they are in the party.
“He gave them the option to either drop the case and remain in government or continue demanding compensation and leave the party.”
The treason suspects then instructed Kalekeni Kaphale Lawyers to write the AG to withdraw the lawsuit which was done on November 26 2014.
“We write on instructions of the above mentioned persons [our clients] on whose behalf we wrote a demand letter dated 11th August 2014 for compensation for false imprisonment, defamation and malicious prosecution. We have received instructions from our clients that they do not wish to pursue the claim any longer.
“We, therefore, write to inform you that they have withdrawn their demand for compensation and the notice of intention to sue stated in our letter of 11th August 2014,” wrote Kalekeni Kaphale Lawyers.
Nankhumwa, who is also government spokesperson and one of the treason suspects, confirmed that the meeting took place between the President and those suspected and arrested for treason.
Said Nankhumwa: “It was a matter of brainstorming. The President said they [those arrested for treason] have the right to claim compensation, but he was worried with the economic situation of the country.
“He was concerned that treason cases fetch a lot of money and when everyone is trying to tighten belts, it would be unwise to give people money, who are, after all, DPP members.”
Mussa refused to discuss the matter, saying the issue is private.
“I was arrested for high treason which is a serious case punishable by death. It is something that touched me, but it is a private matter. I am, therefore, not in a position to talk about it,” he said.
However, Vuwa Kaunda denied that he demanded compensation for the arrest saying, according to him, it was premature.
“We are not acquitted as the case was just discontinued. This means that it can be re-started anytime and it is premature to demand compensation,” he said.
He denied that he instructed Kalekeni Kaphale Lawyers to file for compensation, saying even if his name appears on the list of those demanding compensation, someone might have done it.
We contacted Kalekeni Kaphale Lawyers who insisted that Kaunda is one of the treason suspects that instructed them to demand compensation from government.
The firm wondered how it could just wake up and demand something from government without a client’s instructions.
“The only people that did not instruct us to demand compensation are the President [Mutharika] and Honourable Goodall Gondwe. In fact, Honourable Gondwe made it clear that he was not interested in suing for compensation,” said the legal firm in a written response.
Gondwe confirmed in an interview that he refused to ask for any compensation from government.
He said: “I am in government and it is like suing myself. You cannot bite your own finger.”
Government is facing critical financial problems mostly due to donor aid suspension following last year’s discovery of looting of public funds at Capital Hill by civil servants and some private companies widely known as Cashgate.
Currently, a number of institutions such as the Judiciary, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and the University of Malawi support staff are on strike demanding higher pay.
In October, government increased pay for the President, the Vice-President, leader of opposition, Cabinet ministers and members of Parliament (MPs). The development drew public reaction and the President and Vice-President said they would not get their new pay until the economic situation improves before Cabinet ministers followed suit.