Vice president and running mate for UTM Party, Dr Micheal Usi, has said his party will ensure when it gets to power there should be an amendment of a constitutional provision that shields a sitting President from criminal prosecution, saying it gives the presidency licence to commit corrupt crimes.
Usi said this on Thirsday during the presidential running mates debate ahead of the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections at Chichiri International Conference Centre widely known as Comesa Hall in Blantyre.
The issue of removing the presidential immunity was first raised by Vice President Saulos Chilima, who is also UTM leader, and Usi maintained during the debates that the presidency, whose occupants are employees of citizens, should not be immune from prosecution during their term of office.
Section 91 of the Republican Constitution gives immunity from civil lawsuits and criminal charges to a person holding the office of President or performing the functions of President.
Section 91 (2) reads: “No person holding the office of President shall be charged with any criminal offence in any court during his term of office.”
However, a former president loses immunity and is liable to prosecution for any acts done in his official capacity.
Put to him by the debate moderator Joab Frank Chakhaza that the provision was put in to allow a sitting President to focus on running the country not court appearances, Usi said the removal of presidential immunityswould ensure accountability and sustenance of the constitutional principles that no one is above the law.
Usi also said UTM administration will address the challenges in the lack of independence of the investigative and prosecutorial agencies and a corrupt political culture that reproduces itself.
He said said when a President is blatantly involved in corruption and fraud, it defeats the purpose of the presidency to uphold the rule of law.
Commenting on immunity scrap bid by UTM, governance expert Makhumbo Munthali told Nyasa Times that it’s an issue that Malawians need to debate on especially in the context of “Presidential thieving and corruption”.
He said: “While it is a fact that removing the immunity of the President may be abused by some citizens who may bring numerous lawsuits against the President in the process bringing a government to a standstill, the issue of the immunity of the Head of State and senior government officials has been contentious even at global and regional level especially when it comes to serious crimes that offend human dignity like those under the jurisdiction of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court which Malawi is also party to.”
Munthali added: “Perhaps as a country we should not only be wary about a country being brought to a standstill but also asking ourselves this question: should the Presidency be a safe haven where one can run to in order to escape justice over crimes such as corruption whose consequences put the lives of many Malawians at risk? One possibility would be to isolate those ‘serious’ crimes which the President can be prosecuted while in office and retaining immunity over ‘smaller’ crimes in order to mitigate the abuse of the removal of immunity. “
All in all, Munthali said, the issue needs a “national discourse” that takes into consideration the two realities he outlined.
In his take, Muhammed Sidik Mia of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) did not indicate if immunity would be removed.
Usi, Mia and Frank Mwenifumbo of United Democratic Front (UDF) all agreed that corruption was stifling development in the country.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :