FND back probe for ‘uniform-gate’ K53bn claim: Attorney General faults Parly on subjudice rule
February 1, 2019
Alfred Chauwa & Osman Faiti - Nyasa Times 5 Comments
Forum for National Development (FND) says it is alarmed by businessman Abdul Karim Batawarara who through his two companies is claiming K53 billion from government after a contract with the Immigration Department to supply uniforms but failed to honour the deal and now demanding more than five times the agreed amount.
Addressing a news conference in Lilongwe on Thursday, FND national coordinator Fryson Chodzi who was flanked by the FND national chair Bright Kampaundi said they were equally shocked at the K53 billion claim which, among other things, pegs a single uniform shirt for an Immigration officer at about K60 000 and in some cases a belt at K100 000amd gloves at K60 000.
The activists said Government must not relent and fight all legal actions against Batawarara in the case of ‘Uniform-gate’ scandal.
“We will not stand aside and watch. If in this case director of Immigration had not acted and the Attorney General stopping the payment to Batawarara, we believe that Malawians would have been defrauded of their taxes,” said Chonzi.
FND has backed calls by the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) that the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), Fiscal Police and the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDA) should investigate the matter.
Top government officials in Immigration, Attorney General and Secretary to the Treasury as well as Batawarara representing his two companies Africa Commercial Agency and Reliance Trading Company, were scheduled to appear before Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) this Friday to explain the claim.
But as NyasaTimes reported on Thursday, Clerk of Parliament Fiona Kalemba has stopped PAC from summoning top government officials to explain queries relating to the deal purportedly because the issue is in court.
The Clerk of Parliament quoting parliamentary standing order 192 (1), states that the top government officials could not appear before the committee because the matter was in court.
The National Assembly said while it recognised PAC’s powers under the Constitution to conduct investigation, the committee should consider the subjudice rule under standing order of parliament 192.
The legal opinion observed that the inquiry which the committee intended to carry out concerned a matter which was in the Commercial Division of the High Court at Lilongwe registry.
“The case is at a point where mandatory mediation, as per court procedures, has failed and the matter is proceeding to full trial. The parties are currently waiting for the court to allocate dates. As soon as this is done, the matter will proceed,” it reads.
The legal opinion explained that one of the major issues in contention, between government and the two companies, was whether or not there was a contract between the parties and each party to this lawsuit has its own position on the matter.
“It will be difficult for the witnesses summoned to answer questions from the committee without touching on the very same issue which are to be adjudicated on by the court,” it said.
But government’s chief legal adviser, Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale, said the matter was concluded and that
Parliament Secretariat should have consulted in putting up a legal opinion issued to PAC.
According to Kaphale, he was “neither consulted” when the invitations to top public officers were done and again he was “neither consulted on the issue of subjudice.”
The government’s top lawyer also said he did not receive any invitation to appear before PAC, saying Parliament Secretariat should have been siecufic on the subjudice opinion.
Another legal scholar who spoke to NyasaTimes said PAC will not violate the subjudice rule if it investigates this matter.
”After all, this being an enquiry that may also lead to criminal prosecution in other instances, the Companies concerned may chose to say or produce whatever they deem for or remain silent. Nevertheless the Committee would exercised its constitutional mandate which cannot be overridden or frustrated by a mere rule of procedure,” added the law expert.
In its pursuit to interrogate the deal, PAC cited Section 9 of the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act which empowers the committee to summon the government officials and the directors or secretaries of Africa Commercial Agency and Reliance Trading Company.
PAC chairperson Alekeni Menyani also challenged the legal opinion, saying Section 60(3) of the Constitution which empowers his oversight committee to make inquiries overrides any parliamentary standing order.
He also said PAC’s inquiry was on how the suppliers arrived at the K53.9 billion claim in an initial K9 billion contract.
Leader of oppposition Lazarus Chakwera told a public rally of his Malawi Congress Party (MCP) in Lilongwe last week that the matter should be probed.
And during his news conference in Lilongwe on Wednesday, State Vice-President Saulos Chilima also queried the K53.9 billion claim, saying: “You have to be sick in the head to buy a shirt at K60 000.”