Malawi court orders MRA to pay Tapiwa Mutharika’s hotel bills for causing adjournment

The High Court in Blantyre has ordered Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) to settle hotel accommodation bills for late President Bingu wa Mutharika’s daughter, Tapiwa occasioned as result of case adjournment amounting to around K800,080.00.

MRA and late Mutharika’s family are in court fighting over the intention by the tax-collection body to impound 41 vehicles late Mutharika bought whilst in power on duty free, arguing the family should pay duty if they are to use the vehicles.

The case which was supposed to start on February 12, 2013 was, however, adjourned after MRA noted that was not ready with its affidavit, forcing the court to immediately order the institution to settle all transport and accommodation bill Tapiwa incurred during her two-stay in Blantyre to represent the family in the case.

The bill include legal fees for the family’s lawyer, Chancy Gondwe.

Tapiwa Mutharika

Tapiwa Mutharika

However, controversy erupted in court on Tuesday when the case resumed after Gondwe noted that the case could not proceed unless MRA settles the bill.

Gondwe also argued that the tax-collection body had served him with its affidavit in opposition late and could only challenge whatever points raised in the affidavit if given sometime as the law stipulates. He asked for an adjournment.

“I would like to see the direction of the court on the point that the bill ordered has not been paid. And I was only served with affidavits in opposition yesterday (Monday) evening therefore I will need time to prepare defence as required by law,” Gondwe told the court.

But MRA counsel comprised of Christopher Likomwa and Beatrice Mangwera challenged the bill as exorbitant, arguing it will only be settled if it’s reasonable.

Likomwa said it was not deliberate not to settle the bill but “the figures are not clear. We are willing to pay but it needs to be reasonable”.

The two sides could not agree on the bill, forcing judge Joseph Manyungwa to intervene.

Justice Manyungwa wondered why MRA failed to comply with the court order to settle the bill and urged the two sides to appear before the Court Registrar responsible for taxation to work out on their differences.

Manyungwa adjourned the case and ordered MRA to settle the bill before case hearing resumes on March 18, 2013.

Fact of the matter

The tax collecting body demanded duty on late Mutharika’s personal 41 vehicles he purchased duty free while he was in power.

MRA Commission General John Biziwick on October 23, 2012, wrote the late Mutharika’s young brother, Peter Mutharika, a letter referenced number MRA/CE/TECH/30:00 demanding the said customs duty.

Biziwick attached registration numbers and the vehicles make such as Nissan Pickup, Toyota Hilux, Isuzu KB, Iveco Eurostar, Mercedes Benz CLK240, KIA Sportage, TATA LTP7135, Toyota Fortuner, Toyota Land Cruiser and MF Tractor among others, some of which belong to Bineth Farm.

But in response, Professor Peter Mutharika, the late president’s wife Callista and his daughter Tapiwa Mutharika rushed to court through the Chamgwanjira and Company law firm, seeking an injunction saying they have a constitutional right to property and freedom from arbitrary deprivation.

In the affidavit supporting notice of application to apply for judicial review, Tapiwa wants the court to quash the demand for payment of the said customs duty, an order quashing MRA’s decision to seize the vehicles, an order prohibiting the impounding of the vehicles and an injunction restraining MRA from effecting their decision.
High Court Judge Healey Potani granted the Mutharika’s an injunction restraining the MRA from effecting their action.

According to Tapiwa’s affidavit, her father was entitled to importing limitless duty free vehicles under Schedule Part 1 of the President (Salaries and Benefits) Act Cap2:02 of the Law of Malawi.

But Biziwick says in his letter that no person other than the late President is entitled to the privilege and cannot therefore take or use the vehicles before duty is paid.

Mutharika’s children have been fighting with their step mother Callitsa Mutharika over the administration of the deceased’s estate.

The children argued that Mutharika’s property was under a Bineth Trust, which he and his first wife, late Ethel, founded.

The children are some of the beneficiaries of the trust. But Callista argued that at the time of Mutharika’s death, she was the legally married to the president.

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