The Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal has dismissed an application by governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and four State corporations to set aside a High Court judgement in the Blue Night case against some civil society organisations (CSOs).
The State institutions are Lilongwe Water Board (LWB), Lilongwe City Council (LCC), Blantyre City Council (BCC) and Mzuzu City Council (MCC). The financially-struggling MCC had earlier signed a consent order withdrawing its K3.5 million pledge to DPP.
In his judgement, Dunstan Mwaungulu, sitting as a single judge of appeal in Blantyre, rebuffed both the DPP’s prayers for an order setting aside the ruling of Zomba-based High Court Judge Zione Ntaba as well as leave to appeal the case in the Supreme Court.
To lawyer representing the CSOs, Wesley Mwafulirwa, Mwaungulu’s ruling was a victory.
On the other hand, Bruno Matumbi, lawyer for BCC which made the appeal whose outcome also affects other parties, said the decision was affected by changes at the Supreme Court which now wants leave for appeal to be obtained from the High Court.
In her ruling last year, Ntaba dismissed the DPP’s plea to discharge the case. The judge also stated that the CSOs had sufficient interest (locus standi) in the matter and that it was within their right to take the case to court.
Ntaba also directed that the matter go for mediation before High Court judge Redson Kapindu of Zomba District Registry within two months.
In the protracted case, the CSOs are demanding a refund from the party of donations made by parastatals during the Blue Night fundraising event of July 29 2017 at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe.
But DPP and the parastatals faulted Ntaba, arguing that she erred in law by failing to provide substantial reasons for departing from or for failing to be bound by the decision of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal in the case of Civil Liberties Committee vs Minister of Justice MSCA Civil Appeal Number 12 of 1999.
They also said Ntaba erred in law by finding as a fact that the applicants are human rights activists when there was no evidence before the court supporting such finding.
But in his ruling, Mwaungulu dismissed the application by BCC and others.
During a fundraising dinner and dance branded ‘Blue Night’ at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe on July 29 2017 where President Peter Mutharika was the guest of honour, DPP allegedly received about K13.5 million from public institutions, a gesture the CSOs argued amounted to misuse and abuse of public resources.
The CSOs pursuing the case are Centre for the Development of People (Cedep), Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), Youth and Society (YAS), Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) and Livingstonia Synod’s Church and Society Programme.
These CSOs sought a declaration of the court that the donations to DPP contravened the doctrine of public trust, the Constitution and the Public Finance Management Act. n