Outspoken Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Christopher Mzomera Ngwira risks losing his seat after the High Court in Lilongwe declared him bankrupt for failing to settle a $75 000 (about K55 million) debt plus accrued interests.
The court made its determination on May 30 2018 after the defendant failed to pay the debt by May 25 2018, but Ngwira’s lawyer Wapona Kita has said his client will appeal the ruling.
Court documents The Nation has seen at Commercial Court show that the Mzimba Hora MP purchased four pick-up trucks from TATA Zambia Limited (Malawi Branch) in 2013 valued at $75 222.06.
At the time of the purchase, Ngwira was regional governor (North) for the former ruling People’s Party (PP).
According to a lawyer for the plaintiff from Messrs Lloyds and Associates, the National Assembly was served with the documents last week.
But Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya could neither confirm nor deny his office being furnished with the court ruling, but pointed out that his hands are tied.
He said: “We [Parliament] don’t get served with court documents during sitting of Parliament. So, if there is anything then I don’t know, you may wish to check with the office of Clerk of Parliament but the law is very clear on that.”
According to Section 63 (e) of the Constitution, a seat of an MP shall be vacant “if any circumstances arise that, if he or she were not a member of the National Assembly, would cause that member to be disqualified for election under this Constitution or any other Act of Parliament.
Section 51 (1d) of the Constitution also reads that “a person shall not be qualified to be nominated or elected as an MP “unless that person is an undischarged bankrupt, having been adjudged or otherwise declared bankrupt under any law in force in the Republic”.
In an interview, a Chancellor College constitutional lawyer Edge Kanyongolo interpreted the cited sections as meaning an MP loses the seat if something happens that if it had happened before elections one would have been disqualified.
He said: “For example, if the law says a person who is of unsound mind does not qualify to be an MP, and an MP becomes of unsound mind in the course of his tenure, the law says the seat must be declared vacant.”
But in a telephone interview on Tuesday, Kita said his client will appeal the ruling.
A statement of claim by the plaintiff dated November 3 2015 also attaches a sum of K7 067 497. 29 as costs of vehicle spares and K3 763 778 as costs of motor vehicle repairs.
It also indicates that the defendant only paid $22 900.94, K301 427.74 and K353 572.26 on the sale of motor vehicles cost of spares and repair costs, respectively.
The dealer is also demanding a 3 percent compound interest on the cost of the vehicles, spare parts and repairs above National Bank of Malawi base lending rate until the date of payment or judgement, whichever comes first.
A consent order signed by both lawyers for the defendant and plaintiff on April 29 2016 ordered the defendant to pay $75 222.06 or its equivalent value in Malawi kwacha plus interests at 8 percent per annum from the date of purchase until the date of payment.
A sum of K10 831 275.29 plus 3 percent interest was also to be paid from dates of invoices until the date of payment in full and final settlement of the plaintiff’s claims against the defendant by following monthly instalments effective April 30 2016.
Reads the consent order: “The sum of K1 500 000 on or about 30th April 2016. Thereafter, equal monthly instalments of K3 000 000 effective 31st May 2016. The defendant shall pay collection costs and party costs in the sum of K5 000 000 by monthly instalments of K500 000 effective 31st May 2016.”
A bankruptcy notice was filed by lawyer for the plaintiff on May 19 2016 and directed the defendant to honour the debt within seven days of receiving the notice.
A year later on May 23 2017, a bankruptcy petition was filed after it was noted that Ngwira was unable to settle the debts.
“That in the premises, your petitioner respectfully prays as follows, that the said Hon Christopher Ngwira company be declared to have committed an act of bankruptcy by the honourable court under the provisions of Section 188 and 192 of the Insolvency Act,
“That this honourable court makes a receiving order under the provisions of Section 5 and 205 of the Insolvency Act,” reads the petition in part.
The ruling by Justice Manda reads in part: “Unless the judgement debtor satisfies the judgement sum within 21 days from today (3rd May 2018), he shall stand as a person declared bankrupt.
Former president Joyce Banda in January this year also dragged Ngwira to court demanding the return of a People’s Party (PP) vehicle assigned to him as regional governor in 2013.
Banda had asked the court for an order that Ngwira returns the vehicle, a KIA registration ZA 1457; or that he pays damages for conversion of ownership of the said motor vehicle and for loss of use.
In the Civil Cause number 7 of 2018, Banda also argues that she has always retained title and ownership of the vehicle.
According to the summons, Ngwira is refusing to surrender the vehicle, arguing Banda gave him as a gift.
During the same month, Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) arrested Ngwira on allegations that he misappropriated K650 000 under the Local Development Fund (LDF) in 2010.
Ngwira is suspected to have committed an offence under Section 27 (2) of the Corrupt Practices Act (CPA) for using his position to influence the awarding of a contract for the construction of a teacher’s house at Lukwelukwe in his area.
The Mzimba First Grade Magistrate’s Court granted him bail, and committed the matter to Mzuzu Chief Resident Magistrate‘s Court.
In 2009, Ngwira won on a DPP ticket, but joined PP in 2012 after the death of president Bingu wa Mutharika. When PP lost the elections in 2014, Ngwira urged the party to replace Banda with former State vice-president Khumbo Kachali.
However, the party fired Ngwira as provincial chairperson for the North and expelled him from the party. He rejoined DPP in July 2017.