The High Court’s Commercial Division in Lilongwe has discharged a bankruptcy order on Mzimba Hora legislator the Reverend Christopher Ngwira after he demonstrated ability to service the contested debt.
Ngwira, a former deputy Cabinet minister in former president Bingu wa Mutharika’s administration, was declared bankrupt in June this year after allegedly failing to pay $75 222.06 (about K55 million) to Tata Zambia (Malawi Branch) for four pick-up trucks he bought in 2013.
But in a discharge order dated October 9 2018 following an application by Ngwira’s lawyer, Edgar Kachere, judge Kenan Manda observed that Tata Zambia, despite the June ruling, was still pursuing other means of obtaining the money Ngwira owed it and that the legislator had since paid K10 million.
Reads the court judgement: “From the foregoing, it is my considered view that this is perhaps a matter where we should not have declared the judgement debtor [Ngwira] bankrupt in the first place.
“This is more so considering that after obtaining the bankruptcy order, the creditor [Tata] elected to pursue other remedies other than informing the official receiver of the order. In view of this, I would think that it would only be prudent and fair that the bankrupt [Ngwira] be discharged with conditions.”
The judge also noted that while Tata was aware of the bankruptcy order, the official receiver did not advertise the same because he was not notified.
“Instead, the parties went in to execute an agreement suspending the operation of the bankruptcy order. In effect, this was the creditor trying to find another remedy against the bankrupt [Ngwira],” said the judge.
Manda said that Ngwira’s K10 million payment to Tata after the initial order created a change in circumstances with regard to his indebtedness.
“The fact that [Ngwira] also had property when he was adjudged also brings into question as to whether he was indeed insolvent at the time of the adjudication and whether indeed [Tata] did not have other avenues for ensuring that his debt would be paid,” the judge noted.
Manda also accused litigants of rushing for bankruptcy petitions instead of pursuing other means to get their payment. He said the bankruptcy petition should only be the last resort.
The judge discharged Ngwira on condition that he accrues his National Assembly benefits to Tata, provide details of his property in Area 49 in Lilongwe to the official receiver who should put it up for sale if the official receiver is of the view that the legislator was rightly adjudicated to be bankrupt.
Ngwira, whose political future hang by the thread following the bankruptcy declaration, yesterday described the judgement as a relief.
He said: “I am happy with the ruling because I was doomed politically. Some people did not wish me well. They created the impression that I was unwilling to pay the money or that I was disobedient to the court. I cannot say much now because there is more to it.”
In the 2009 General Elections, Ngwira won the Mzimba Hora parliamentary seat on Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) ticket, but joined People’s Party (PP)after Bingu’s death in 2012. He was later fired in PP after advising the party to replace its leader, Joyce Banda with her then vice-president Khumbo Kachali when the party’s leader was in self-imposed exile. Ngwira , who retained the parliamentary seat in 2014 Tripartite Elections, rejoined DPP in June 2017.