Taxpayers are set to pay K900 million compensation to outspoken Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) secretary general (SG) Grezeider Jeffrey following her acquittal in the K187 million Ministry of Education scam during the Bakili Muluzi administration.
Jeffrey and others, who initially sued government for about K12 billion (about $26.7 million), are claiming compensation for false imprisonment, defamation, breach of contract and malicious prosecution for allegedly defrauding millions from the Ministry of Education in a scam exposed in the early 2000s.
Documents filed at the High Court of Malawi in Lilongwe indicate that Jeffrey, Brian Phiri and two deceased civil servants who worked under the Ministry of Education took government to court following the actions and decisions of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and the National Audit Office (NAO).
The complainants accuse the Auditor General’s office of defaming Jeffrey in its audit report of March 2000 by alleging that her business connived with a divisional education office in Kasungu to defraud government.
The statement of claim, filed in December last year, also states that Jeffrey lost an estimated K14 275 971.12 following government’s order to stop payment of a cheque and balance for completed work at Msalura Community Day Secondary School.
In total, the plaintiffs are demanding a sum of K12 135 984 477 plus action costs.
However, a Capital Hill source confided in The Nation that Jeffrey has asked for the K900 million compensation and that the State was discussing with her lawyers to have the amount reduced.
Said the source: “The case has reached a stage where government is pleading with her [Jeffrey’s] lawyers that the amount be reduced. Of course, government was in the wrong. She was acquitted, but her property was seized, including trucks, minibuses and houses…”
During the 11-year trial, Jeffrey and her fellow co-accused answered charges of corrupt practices with a public officer, obtaining money by false pretence, theft, uttering false documents, corrupt use of official powers, forgery and making a false warrant for money.
While confirming the existence of the case, newly appointed Attorney General (AG) Charles Mhango on Thursday said he was yet to undertake a review of the file as he was new in his office and has a pile of work to do.
He said: “I know there is such a case, but I can’t comment much because currently I am reviewing so many matters. I have not yet reviewed this one. There are some cases that are very urgent, but you just need to understand that I am reviewing a lot of files.”
When contacted last week, Jeffrey’s lawyer, Ralph Mhone, who is also Nkhata Bay Central member of Parliament (MP) on the People’s Party (PP) ticket, refused to comment on the status of the case, saying her client was better-placed to do so.
On her part, Jeffrey, who is also Nkhotakota South legislator (DPP), played down the issue, saying it was a forgotten matter because it happened a long time ago and wondered why some people would want to drag it till to date.
About 55 people were implicated in the scam, but only four—including former principal secretary for Ministry of Education Sam Safuli—were convicted and jailed, although two of the convictions were later set aside by the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal.
The rest of the suspects, including civil servants and several contractors, had their cases dropped or were acquitted due to lack of sufficient evidence.
How the scam was discovered
The K187 million Ministry of Education scandal was exposed through an audit which revealed a breakdown in financial controls and internal check systems in the ministry.
Safuli was sentenced to two years imprisonment for aiding and abetting theft of K100 000. He was convicted together with managing director of Tapempha Building Contractors, Esther Kathumba, who got four and two years imprisonment for theft of K596 802 and attempted theft of K1 999 920, respectively, from the ministry.
Esther’s husband, Henry Kathumba, who was managing Khristu Nafe Building Contractors, was given a two-year jail term for theft of K100 000 which he collected from the ministry.
Snowden Joya, a quantity surveyor in the ministry, was sentenced to three years imprisonment for forging six certificates for completion of work for projects that were never finished.
But eight months after the convictions, the Supreme Court of Appeal set aside Safuli and Jiya’s convictions and quashed their sentences.
The court also quashed theft charges against the Kathumbas and substituted them with theft by false pretence. n