Malawi court acquits former DC on corruption charges

The High Court in Mzuzu has acquitted former Likoma Island District Commissioner for abuse of office saying the Nkhata Bay First Grade Magistrate Court misdirected itself on points of law by failing to link the evidence to the charge so as to warrant a conviction.

Malawi’s graft busting body, the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) arrested the then DC Laiford Mgunda in 2008 saying he abused his office, status or authority by favoring his girlfriend in the disbursement of loans of  cement and iron sheets to various people whose houses were damaged by heavy rains in December 2004.

The ACB insinuated that it was Mgunda who coaxed the ‘alleged’ girlfriend Grace Minika to write his office so that she could be a recipient.

Under criminal case number 18 of 2008 Mgunda was charged with abuse of office contrary to section 25 (b) (1) of the Corrupt Practices Act.

Lawyer Kadzipatike: To write government to lift his client’s suspsension

He pleaded not guilty but after a full trial, the Nkhata Bay Court convicted him and fined him MK120,000 and in default to serve 12 months imprisonment with hard labour.

Government interdicted Mgunda in 2008 while he was DC for Ntchisi on the basis of the prosecution instituted by the ACB.

But Mgunda through Mzuzu based prominent lawyer George Kadzipatike of Jivason and Company appealed against the decision asking the court to determine whether the conviction was safe in regard to the evidence and whether the sentence was justifiable.

In his eight grounds of appeal, among others, Kadzipatike noted that the Magistrate erred in holding that those people who were not relatives to the DC were not entitled to loans during the disaster but those who were his relatives.

“Such conduct would amount to discrimination contrary to section 20 of the Malawi constitution,” Kadzipatike said.

He also said the Magistrate erred in holding that Mgunda had admitted the charge during interrogation at the ACB offices in Mzuzu.

“The learned Magistrate again erred in law in basing his decision on the evidence of the second accused, whose evidence was not admissible in court since he was not a state witness,” Kadzipatike noted.

However, Judge Dingiswayo Madise noted that Mgunda as DC was within the ambit of the law by giving out government materials citing section 40 (1) (b) of the Local Government Act which he said expressly empowers the  Assembly to make grants or loans to other person or bodies on conditions it determines.

“The state alleged that Mgunda had assisted his girl friend hence the charge of abuse of office. The lower Court in  its determination also observed that Mgunda was mandated to assist all save for his relatives. I find this conclusion rather absurd.

“Was the girlfriend a victim of a disaster? Is there evidence to suggest that Mgunda assisted others as a sham in order to assist his girlfriend? Did the girl friend follow the normal procedure of applying for the loan like all others?  Did the Director of planning approve the girlfriend’s loan like all other loans?” Madise queried.

The Judge said he found the connection of Grace Minika and the DC Mgunda as well as  the charges very remote.

“I therefore set aside the conviction and set aside the sentence of fine,” Justice Madise said in his 15 pages judgement on Thursday.

Kadzipatike told Nyasa Times in an interview that he will write the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development informing them of the judgement so that they lift Mgunda’s interdiction.

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