The Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) has launched an investigation to establish those behind the leakage of communication from the office of the Attorney General (AG) to the public.
But the AG’s office, while welcoming the investigation, wonders how only memos to the OPC and the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) leak when they have sent several others without leakage.
Speaking during the bi-weekly State House media briefing on Monday, presidential press officer Brian Banda said President Lazarus Chakwera is concerned with the continued leakage and that those responsible have not been traced.
He said: “We cannot, at this point in time, point where the leakage is coming from but the President is very concerned that memos of this type are leaked to the public.
“The President sees this as a matter of corruption and the President is committed to dealing with this matter and finding a lasting solution. Once caught, the culprit will be dealt with.”
In a follow-up interview to find out who was conducting this investigation on behalf of the President, Banda said the OPC is handling the assignment.
Several memos from the AGs office, in form of legal opinions, have been leaked to social media, generating public debate.
AG Chikosa Silungwe has bemoaned the leakages, and described the conduct in a strongly-worded statement on February 12, 2021 as “unprecedented”.
Reads the AG’s statement: “Since I know that the leakages are not from the Ministry of Justice, I expect colleagues from the other ministries, departments or agencies to be professionals they must be. Leaking my opinions in a manner it happened on Thursday, 11 February 2021, is simply silly and immature. I trust that the people of Malawi have seen the last chapter of this absolute and hideous nonsense. ”
Some of the legal opinions that have recently leaked to the public include the AG’s advice to government on how it should handle matters of secondment.
In another memo, he advised government against interdiction without pay and most recently, his opinion on MEC commissioners also got leaked.
In a written response on Monday, Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs spokesperson Pirirani Masanjala distanced the AG’s office from the leakage, saying it is composed of lawyers who are members of the Malawi Law Society and abide by the provisions of the Malawi Public Service Regulations.
He said: “The Office of the Attorney General has never leaked and shall never leak opinions it issues to government ministries, departments or agencies. Opinions that have leaked thus far are those that have been sent to the Office of the President and Cabinet, and the Electoral Commission.
“The core staff of the office of the Attorney General are lawyers who, as members of the Malawi Law Society, follow, among others, the Society’s Code of Ethics. It is not one of the tenets in that code to be leaking opinions.”
Commenting on the proliferation of leakages of sensitive documents on social media, University of Malawi’s Chancellor College communication lecturer Jimmy Kainja said social media itself cannot be blamed as it is just a platform for communication.
He observed that the leakage of legal opinions may have something to do with politics within the Tonse Alliance and probably the excitement among people to be the ones sharing such classified information on social media.
Said Kainja: “As to why people leak information, there are several reasons. Some can innocently share sensitive information, [but for] others it is because they are gratified when they are seen among peers as having access to important information.
“For the AG’s office, we are bound to have political conclusions as to why people leak such information. This is the easiest conclusion given that we have a coalition government in which Cabinet ministers have different political affiliations and leanings.”
He has since advised government to have an organised way of handling information which will make it easy to trace who leaks.
Recently, OPC went ahead to fire two MEC commissioners Linda Kunje and Jean Mathanga despite the AG’s legal advice to offer them letters of appointment.
But Banda, on Monday, stressed that as Chakwera and Vice-President Saulos Chilima have both indicated, the alliance remains intact and will not be broken.
He said: “The President and the Vice-President are always engaging such that if there is a difference in opinion within the alliance, the two leaders are able to resolve them.”
Banda further said it is unrealistic to expect a coalition of nine parties not to have differences of opinion.
On the court’s decision to reinstate commissioners Kunje and Mathanga, the presidential press secretary said the President respects the decision of the court and that he rescinded the commissioners’ appointment in respect of both the Constitutional Court and the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal judgements that declared them incompetent in their roles.
In announcing the President’s engagement for the week, State House director of communication and special executive assistant Sean Kampondeni said Chakwera was on Mondayexpected to meet MPs who recently won by-elections in the Shire Valley, after which he would meet Paramount Chief Lundu.
He said the President was also scheduled to meet with Kalonga Gawa Undi, the King of the Chewa was in the country to attend the funeral of former vice-president Justine Malewezi on Saturday in Likuni, Lilongwe.