Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Ben Malunga Phiri has been quizzed of his qualifications in the Constitutional Court where he is the first witness of President Peter Mutharika, the first respondent in the presidential election results nullification petition.
Phiri, a long-time top aide of Mutharika, who is also Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) director of elections, faced in the witness stand one of the lawyers representing immediate past Vice-president Saulos Chilima, Dr Chikosa Silungwe.
The minister uses the prefix ‘Dr’ before his name.
Silungwe asked Phiri to state where he obtained his doctorate degree and in what field.
Phiri said the doctorate was in Biblical Philosophy obtained from Jerusalem Bible College.
The lawyer also asked Phiri if he has a Masters Degree in which he confirmed he has and that he obtained it from Costa Ford University.
He said the Masters Degree is in International Relations.
Asked if he has a Bachelors Degree, Phiri said he has the degree also in International Relations from Atlantic University.
It was put to him that the institution is a diploma mill which is an organization that claims to be a higher education institution but provides illegitimate academic degrees and diplomas for a fee. These degrees may claim to give credit for relevant life experience, but should not be confused with legitimate prior learning assessment program.
One of the lawyers for President Mutharika, Frank Mbeta rose to shield Phiri from the line of questioning.
Lawyer Silungwe said he was asking Phiri on his qualifications and warned of perjury – the crime of telling lies in court when you have promised to tell the truth in an oath.
Apparently, Silungwe was pointing to a fact the Phiri is on record to have attained a doctorate degree with a US-based a doctorate degree with the Cyprus International Institute of Texas and not Jerusalem Bible College.
Phiri was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy in Leadership Management at a public ceremony held at the Bingu International Conference Centre (BICC) in 2015.
Silungwe also quizzed Phiri to state his thesis for his degree. But as Phiri stammered over the thesis, lawyer Mbeta objected to the question on the basis of relevance to the matter at hand and the court sustained the objection.
In his Doctorate of Philosophy in Leadership Management, Phiri’s thesis was titled; “Law Enforcement and Servant Leadership; Exploring Its Functionality. A Case Study of Organizational Leadership”
Phiri, who is also member of parliament for Thyolo Central and one of the rich politicians, worked as special aide to President Mutharika but resigned from his post.
He had been the President’s aide since 2007 and said two issues prompted him to call it quits at State House, among them corruption allegations and suggestions that he was manipulating and influencing Mutharika.
Phiri said some critics were equating him to a ‘prime minister’ who called the shots behind the scenes.
He had been working as Mutharika’s assistant since November 2007 when he (Mutharika) came to Malawi to serve in various capacities, including Cabinet portfolios.