When the opposition petitioners won the historic presidential election case, lead counsel Mordecai Msisha dedicated the victory to the people of the country and the many selfless young men who worked day and night researching on the case. “I was just their voice,” he said with remarkable humbleness.”
What we did not know, that day, was the total number of those young men who had worked behind the scenes, desperately aiding the army of lawyers that would reverse election injustice and usher in a new era for the country. Nor did we know the price for the actions. We know do.
When Msisha later rejected a Cabinet role in the new government, the rest of the continent wondered whether Malawi, which had just done the unthinkable of nullifying a presidential election then vanquishing the incumbent who had benefited from the nullified vote—a vote marred with serious irregularities—was indeed “in Africa.”
For indeed, these acts sounded and appeared surreal for a continent where the barrel of the gun, not the ballot, often rules. When tin pot dictators and their equivalents masquerading as democrats often rig elections, brutally suppress any protests, thereafter and life goes on as usual.
So it must be clear then that there is no question, whatsoever, that the lawyers who represented the victorious side in the momentous election case, are not only heroes, but deserve the reward for the fruits of their labour.
That the court ordered the maligned Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to foot the bill for the costly elections case, too, was widely accepted as common sense bearing in mind the lengths MEC went to first mismanage the elections and then play a partisan role in the elections case. The commission, in its partisan crusade, even appealed a case that it promised us was not appealable.
And along the way, MEC even came up with a very suspicious transaction, dubiously hiring a foreign legal firm on astronomical figures to help defend its case during a two-day hearing in the supreme court when the airports were being closed down and when majority of preparations for the case was already done by local lawyers.
The cost of the rendezvous with the little known foreign lawyers alone was the ungodly K700 Million. We all went ballistic, including the then ‘captured’ Malawi Law Society, tearing apart the nonsensical of the expenditure. It all smacked of corruption. The manner the contract was awarded and the irrationality of the sums involved, reputation of the firm, period for engagement etc.
And it all seemed part of a well known pattern for the DPP administration where individuals connected to that corrupt regime would be given huge pay offs, sanctioned by the Attorney General and treasury, all appearing legal, but fundamentally flawed and in essence systematic corruption.
All those payments were being made at the back of failure by the same government to provide for majority of the essential services and amidst the worst levels of poverty and economic stagnation like no other.
We are in paradise, right? Not so when you realise that the majority of the problems hitting the country have not gone away. If anybody needed any reminder, Covid-19 has exposed our glaring inadequacies.
At our biggest referral hospital, Kamuzu Central Hospital, which naturally is nursing the biggest number of Covid-19 patients, the hospital cannot afford to purchase enough oxygen cylinders required to save desperate lives, turning to the public for help.
That is besides the myriad of challenges that continue to face the country only for the courts that saved us, to remind us about how fallible and flawed our democratic experiment is by awarding, the heroes of the struggle, a whopping K7billion in legal fees.
Not that the lawyers don’t deserve to be paid, but in a country so poor, an economy so small and amid the many challenges facing this country, I wonder whether any of the persuasive lawyers who impressed the country with their persuasiveness, can justify whether this money, legally entitled as it is, can be considered acceptable morally.
If they do so, let’s remember that the same legal fraternity which today has joined hands, a bit of camaraderie on the legal fees tussle, was up in arms when it was suggested that the SA lawyers ought to be paid K700 million. Figures that were once obscene shouldn’t become right today. It shouldn’t be about a victor’s justice.
As someone rightly asked, would the lawyers be asking the same amounts if the case was lost and their clients were still in opposition. Do the figures become justifiable only because their clients are in power? Just like on so many occasions under the DPP regime, once again we are being fed dog meat. And the restaurant serving us has some heroes as the chefs.