So President Lazarus Chakwera this week fired Chikosa Silungwe as Attorney General (AG). So the two must have come to a situation where they could no longer see eye- to-eye and let alone steer the ship in the same direction. So as the appointing authority, the President had no choice but to do the needful because he has a country to run.
Well, it turns out that Silungwe, that brilliant lawyer, well respected by peers and colleagues, the 18th AG in a long line of Malawian AGs that started with Orton Chirwa in 1961 under former president Kamuzu Banda, was, after all, a misfit in Chakwera’s administration.
That Silungwe—who was thrust into the political limelight when he was lead counsel for UTM Party leader Saulos Chilima in the presidential elections case, held the fort as AG with integrity—there is no argument. That he goes out with his head high, no scars, his CV intact, there is no question. That he has a lot of sympathisers and hand-clappers as well as critics in the manner he discharged his duties, there is also no contention.
One renowned lawyer who worked with Silungwe in the Elections case, Khumbo Bonzoe Soko, waxed lyrical in a Facebook post on Wednesday about how Silungwe performed as AG. “Ba Mtanga performed his duties well. It was not about who he was dealing with but the facts at hand and the law.”
President of the Malawi Law Society Patrick Mpaka said he was shocked that President Chakwera had fired Silungwe: “Silungwe has been discharging his duties professionally.”
Another commentator said: “No wise man can work with corrupt people for years on end.” Another wrote: “Malawi’s best Attorney General who didn’t like kissing an ass of a politician. … He will go down as a principled man who stood by the law not what a politician wants. It’s not even a loss to stick to a president who has completely lost direction… Farewell Big man.”
Yet another quipped: “This is pure State capture on President Lazarus Chakwera’s Tonse administration. Thieves (names withheld) are feasting over Attorney General Chikosa Silungwe’s firing.”
But as is always the case, there were just as many contrary views on the same. One of the loudest with such a stance came from someone who writes under the name Lord Denning. In short, he argues that Silungwe, brilliant as he may be as a lawyer, was compromised in the manner he handled a number of issues on his table.
Arguing that being compromised is when the ability to be objective has been damaged, Lord Denning says during the Presidential Election court case, Silungwe requested the court to fire the MEC commissioners. After the court case, he is also on record to have suggested to the President to fire the commissioners. Fast forward into becoming AG, he advised the President firing the commissioners was an illegal adventure.
Another incident, according Lord Denning, is that when the commissioners sued government, the AG did not enter defence. “He abrogated his duties.”
The AG’s justification was that the President did not heed his earlier advice. Therefore he had nothing to argue in court on the matter. Lord Denning calls this arrogance. Where was the AG’s allegiance? He asks. “To Government or the commissioners?”
As it turned out it is the President who had the last laugh when the court fired the commissioners based on the same arguments and facts the President had given.
Lord Denning concludes: “As I have said, examples of incompetence and compromise are plenty. In the face of facts, no reasonable administration can maintain him as AG. His firing was long overdue.”
Former AG, Chikosa Silungwe is a brilliant lawyer, with impeccable qualifications. His changing of goal posts on issues cost him credibility by the appointing authority. The job of the AG is to provide legal advice to Government.
The best the fired AG could have done is that when he discovered the administration could not take his legal advice; when he discovered he was in a collision course with the President; he should have honourably resigned as a matter of principle.
That is what peoplein advanced democracies do. But this is Malawi.
Well, he will get his pay cheque up to the end of the contract. Well, perhaps that is why he did not quit.