APM witness admits challenges

  • Ben Phiri claims Tippex was used correctly
  • Court adjourns to November 25

After hearing testimony of first respondent’s witness Ben Phiri, in which he admitted electoral flaws in May 21 elections, the Constitutional Court in Lilongwe yesterday set December 6 to conclude hearing of arguments by both petitioners and respondents.

Was cross-examined yesterday: Phiri

Head of the five-man panel of High Court judges hearing the case Healey Potani urged the two sides to start preparing for their winding up arguments, saying the court does not have much time remaining. The other judges are Redson Kapindu, Dingiswayo Madise, Ivy Kamanga and Mike Tembo.

According to Potani, the court will go for a week-long recess, and reconvene on November 25. The parties have been given nine days within which to file written submissions.

Yesterday, Phiri, a key witness to President Peter Mutharika, who is first respondent in the presidential election case, was cross-examined by first petitioner Saulos Chilima’s lawyer, Chikosa Silungwe.

Lawyers handling the case confer outside the court

During cross-examination, Phiri acknowledged that the May 21 elections were marred by challenges that included officers filling in inappropriate boxes of the tally sheets because of failure to understand some terminologies.

Phiri, who was DPP’s director of elections during the May 21 polls, also admitted use of Tippex, duplicate forms and alterations of results on tally sheets by some polling staff.

But Phiri insisted that Tippex was used correctly.

He was also made to read out his sworn affidavit, which stated that auditors which the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) hired to scrutinise and certify the electoral process, rejected many of the tally sheets because of missing signatures of some political parties.

But, according to Phiri, MEC gave the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) permission to approve all papers if they only had signatures of presiding officers.

Said Phiri: “Many tally sheets were rejected because they were manually amended. Later, MEC provided us [DPP] with an official letter allowing us to approve any manual amendment on the tally sheet and forms used at constituency centre.”

On request by Silungwe, the court also played a video clip of MEC chairperson Jane Ansah recorded during one of the press briefings at the National Tally Centre in Blantyre.

In the video clip, the MEC chairperson responded to a question about who distributed Tippex. Ansah explained that various parties had complained about the use of the correction fluid, but she explained that MEC did not provide the stuff.

Said Ansah: “The … use of Tippex has not left out any district in this country—from Chitipa to Nsanje, Salima to Mchinji. And there is no particular party which we can say is the culprit because all political parties are coming forward with complaints about it.”

Silungwe also asked Phiri, who is also Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, on his academic credentials.

He claimed that the minister’s bachelor’s degree in International Relations was obtained from an institution known as Atlantic International University which is associated with fake academic qualifications.

Phiri did not respond but the panel of judges objected to the query, saying the source of his degree was irrelevant to the matter. Phiri is expected to be cross-examined by lawyers for the second petitioner  Lazarus Chakwera when the court reconvenes on November 25.

Meanwhile the court has sent a strong warning against anyone threatening witnesses, saying it is a crime punishable by law.

Judge Potani told the court during communications that the court had received reports that even lawyers are being booed outside court.

He observed that there is no need to attach lawyers to clients.

On Thursday, Daud Suleman, who is the sixth and last witness for Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Chakwera, informed the court that he and his relatives were receiving threats from unknown people.

The matter was heard in High Court chambers and Potani told the court later that it was resolved that Suleman, who is an IT expert, should report the matter to law enforcement agencies.

Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale, who is representing MEC—second respondent—yesterday made a firm undertaking to see to it that the issue is investigated.

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