Opposition parties represented in Parliament have said the allegations that President Mutharika sanctioned Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda’s trip to Germany is a serious one demanding to be viewed on its merit in the House.
Chaponda sneaked out to a workshop in Berlin, Germany, last Thursday after the High Court in Mzuzu had ruled that he be on forced leave of office following an injunction civil society organisations obtained.
Reacting to the matter, leader of Opposition and president of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) Lazarus Chakwera said the allegation that Mutharika violated the Constitution because he allegedly approved Chaponda’s trip, was a serious matter.
“This is an extremely serious matter, regardless of how certain individuals look at it,” he stated, emphasising that no one is above the law.
He added: “When you give the impression that certain people cannot be questioned and certain actions cannot be questioned and that certain people are not answerable to the law, then the whole issue of accountability is brought into question.
“I don’t think we should be behaving, as leaders, in a way that encourages impunity as well as lawlessness.”
Danwood Chirwa, a legal expert based at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, told our sister paper Nation on Sunday this week that Chaponda faces prosecution if he is proved to have conducted government business in Germany and described President Peter Mutharika’s role in the alleged sanctioning of the trip as being “complicit in disobeying the court order, which some might consider serious enough to trigger impeachment.”
But when asked directly if Mutharika’s action of allowing Chaponda to travel despite the court order merited the President’s impeachment, he said: “That will have to be looked at on its merit,” he replied.
Acting People’s Party (PP) president Uladi Mussa said as a former minister, he knows that protocol demands that the Head of State approve a minister’s foreign trip; hence, the Agriculture Minister’s alleged defiance of the court order should have the blessings of the President.
He said a member of Parliament (MP), let alone a minister, ought to be exemplary in being obedient to court rulings and to what laws and the Constitution direct.
Commenting on the issue, constitutional law expert Edge Kanyongolo said it would take a legal interpretation over whether Mutharika’s action could be construed as a serious violation of the Constitution that may lead to his impeachment. “I think it would be speculative to say whether Parliament would consider this a serious violation of the Constitution or not.
“Unfortunately for us, this phrase [of a serious Constitutional violation] has not been interpreted before and so there is no precedent on which we can base any judgement,” he stated.
On his part, Malawi Law Society (MLS) president Joe Suzi-Banda said he does not want to comment on the matter.
“We can’t keep on running a commentary on this matter. It’s in court.”
State House press secretary Mgeme Kalirani also said the issues surrounding Chaponda’s status as a minister are in court and he is bound not to comment on them.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) yesterday called on Mutharika to not only recall the minister from the trip but also fire him from the Cabinet.
Asked to comment on the matter after telling him of the sentiments by other quarters that Chaponda be fired, Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale curtly responded: “Those are their views and I respect that.” He could not be drawn to comment any further.
In its statement, signed by HRCC chairperson Robert Mkwezalamba yesterday, the HRCC said it learnt with great shock that Chaponda had travelled to Germany in his capacity as a minister. n