Malawi Government has blown at least K200 million (US$487 804) of your tax to pay a British lawyer the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration hired in the treason case against former vice-president Cassim Chilumpha and Mangochi South legislator Yusuf Matumula.
With no conclusion of the case that has lasted over seven years in sight, Weekend Nation has learnt that Malawians are continuing to pay lawyer Antony Berry legal fees and other claims.
In an interview last week, former minister of Justice Ralph Kasambara said at the time he was leaving the ministry in October, government had paid over K200 million to the lawyer who is Queen’s Counsel (QC) in the UK on the case.
The money is more than the K150 million that government allocated in the 2013/14 national budget towards the construction of the new Nkhata Bay District Hospital which is crucial in increasing access to quality healthcare services.
The money is also enough to buy over 100 ventilators which are in short supply in the country’s main hospitals. Ventilators are used to assist patients with breathing problems.
Said Kasambara: “There is a case on the prosecution of Chilumpha. Government has paid over K200 million and we are still paying the UK lawyers on that case. There are several millions government has paid to lawyers to represent it on cases.
“I never questioned it because these were professional judgments made by other legal professionals at ministry and I did not want to start digging into the work of my predecessors.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Bruno Kalemba also confirmed that government is still paying the UK lawyer on Chilumpha’s treason case, but said the payments are on the work Berry previously did on the case up to the last adjournment.
“We have almost paid about 80 percent of the money we are supposed to pay him. The last major payment was six months ago amounting to about K80 million. There is some money that we still owe him.
“At the time we requested the K80 million, the amount was enough to finish the payments, but when the money finally came for us to pay, the kwacha had been devalued and the K80 million was not enough to finish the payment,” said Kalemba, who said he needed more time to check on the overall amount paid to Berry on the case.
He said government will make the next payment to the lawyer when funds are available.
“We are in austerity measures. We pay when we have enough funds. He is being paid for the work that he did already on the case. It’s only that which we are paying for,” said Kalemba.
Asked what government thinks about the future of the case, he said: “If you go to the court now, the matter was adjourned. That is the legal position. It was adjourned to a date to be fixed. We will proceed when the date is fixed.”
He said he needed time to give more consideration on the case to decide whether to close it or not.
“It is within my prosecutorial powers to make that judgment but I cannot make such decisions while I am driving on the road,” said Kalemba in a telephone interview.
In an interview on Tuesday, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Fahadi Assani also said government was still paying the UK lawyer on the case, saying he needed to check with other officers before commenting on the overall amount.
Chilumpha, who is now second vice-president in President Joyce Banda’s People’s Party (PP), and Matumula were arrested in 2006 on allegations that they were planning to assassinate former president, the late Bingu wa Mutharika, using hired assassins from South Africa.
Last year, Weekend Nation revealed that Berry claimed £158 227.22 (about K70 million as at June 2012 exchange rate values and about K110 million as at current exchange rates) in legal fees for last year alone.
A letter from Berry dated May 12, 2012 to former DPP Rosemary Kanyuka showed that the money was for his legal fees on the case for only the first five months of the year.
The lawyer charges £8 000 (about K5.6 million) per week in legal fees.
The case has dragged on for seven years although government then said it had overwhelming evidence against the two.
In an interview on Thursday, Chancellor College law associate professor Edge Kanyongolo said government would have avoided the huge costs on Chilumpha’s case if it had engaged local lawyers.
“It’s difficult to know the other costs on this case apart from the one paid to the UK lawyer because that depends on how people in government do their specifications. We would have avoided such costs if we had relied on local experts. I believe, we have trained enough lawyers to handle such cases,” said Kanyongolo.
On the future of the treason case, Kanyongolo said the longer the State takes to prosecute Chilumpha, the more the prosecution process appears to be persecution.
Said Kanyongolo: “Personally, I think we have come to a point where we need to decide whether we have evidence or no evidence for this case. The more it takes to prosecute the person, the more it appears to be persecution than prosecution.
“To put a person under trial for seven years is more of injustice. In almost all the cases where people are put on trial for more years like seven or eight years, it is a violation of the principles of justice.”
Malawi Health Network (Mhen) executive director Martha Kwataine described government’s payment of legal fees in the treason case as a waste of resources.
“It’s a waste of resources, but the money has to be paid at all cost. This is why we say it is not good to do politics in everything. Why did government put somebody under house arrest when it had no evidence?
“When government becomes reckless in its decisions, it is taxpayers who pay for the recklessness. They still have to pay the money because any delays would attract interest charges. That money would buy drugs and yet we are wasting it because of politics. Sometimes when politicians are in power, what they prioritise is not a priority for Malawians,” said Kwataine.
Chilumpha and the late Mutharika fell out in 2005 after the former president left United Democratic Front (UDF), a party that sponsored him into power in 2004, to form DPP.
Chilumpha remained in UDF until he joined PP last year.