Women Lawyers Association (WLA) – Malawi has come under fire from the public after the High Court in Lilongwe awarded them K255 684 112.00 as bill of costs they incurred in the course of their representing Nsundwe rape victims when, in fact, it is on record that they were representing their clients pro bono—free of charge.
An order signed by Chisomo Mandala, assistant registrar, on August 6, 2021 at the High Court, Civil Division, Lilongwe confirms the figure and Nyasa Times has further learnt that the 18 victims in total got K90 million with each carting K5 million while the pro bono lawyers instead have gone home with over K255 million.
Following a hullabaloo on social media – especially Facebook – by a horde of Malawians which Nyasa Times monitored on Saturday, Women Lawyers Association president, Immaculate Maluza, issued a statement titled ‘Nsundwe Case, Taxation Ruling’ in which she said the process was normal.
The statement reads in part: “Both orders of compensation and costs are orders of the Court that were given after assessing all legal issues that were brought before the Court. The costs awarded by the Court take into account the work that the lawyers did in the case and the time spent on the case which is a normal process in each legal process.”
According the Women Lawyers Association bill for the Nsundwe case, the matter was handled by Counsel Charlotte Wezi Malonda of 19 years standing at the bar – MK40,000.00/hr, Counsel Hilda Soko of 10 years standing at the bar – MK40,000.00/hr, Counsel Tadala Chinkwezule of 10 years standing at the bar — MK40,000.00/hr, Counsel Carol Tendai Makoko of 4 years standing at the bar- MK30,000.00/hr, and Counsel Immaculate Maluza of 3 years standing at the bar- MK30,000.00/hr.
But a number of Malawians, including social commentators and fellow lawyers, have found WLA statement as unimpressive, saying it did not tackle and explain why they were pocketing millions of kwachas when they were entirely discharging their services on a pro bono basis.
Others called such a jackpot as “obscene.”
Seasoned private practice lawyer, Thabo Chakaka-Nyirenda, wrote on Facebook that, actually, the Women Lawyers Association had been funded during litigation.
“Women Lawyers Association [WLA] received funding from the UN and the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa to finance litigation in the Nsundwe case. All expert witnesses and incidental litigation costs were paid for by the donors. WLA should, therefore, refund the donors or account to the donors for the funds received,” wrote Chakaka-Nyirenda.
Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) issued a statement calling on the Women Lawyers Association to provide clarification and justification on the Nsundwe case taxation ruling.
In the statement, signed by MHRC chairperson Scader Louis, MHRC called upon the Women Lawyers Association to provide the general public with adequate information that would enable them to understand what entails pro bono services.
Reads the statement in part: “The Commission as a public institution with the mandate to implement the Access to Information Act calls upon the Association to address aspects of the cost awarded considering the grave concerns raised by the public.
“Women Lawyers Association being an organisation which carries out work related to rights and freedoms of people, has a duty under Section 15 of the Access to Information Act to make available to the general public information in its custody or under its custody in relation to funds received for litigation in the Nsundwe case and further clarify pro bono services rendered to the Nsundwe victims.”
An investigation by the same MHRC had revealed that during an operation in October 2019, 17 police officers allegedly raped 13 women, defiled one girl and sexually assaulted three teenagers.
But we understand that none of the alleged rapists has been arrested.
Lawyer Tamando Chokhotho, while commenting on the K255 million award to Women Lawyers Association, said: “What makes this case more disturbing is when you find out the real reason why none of the alleged rapists has been arrested or is being prosecuted. Truth is, a good number of the alleged victims were found with forged medical reports.
“Those that sounded like they were sexually assaulted couldn’t identify their assailants among the officers that had been assigned to the area which brings to doubt whether indeed they were officers.
“The police simply fear reprisals from the public if they were to release that information as the public may think they are trying to shield their fellow officers. So, the sad thing is some of the ladies have actually committed fraud and will get away with it because they have public sympathy. The police wouldn’t dare arrest them even though they have clear evidence of the forgery.”Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :