The High Court of Malawi has dismissed governing Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) plea to discharge a case where five civil society organisations (CSOs) want the party to reimburse K13.5 million public funds solicited from parastatals at its fundraising event.
In her ruling delivered yesterday afternoon, Zomba-based High Court judge Zione Ntaba observed that the CSOs—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—had sufficient interest in the matter and that it was within their right to take the case to court.
The court also recognised the role of human rights activists in the country in taking up cases of such nature to fight for accountability and transparency.
Ntaba also directed that the matter be taken for mediation to be conducted by judge Redson Kapindu of the High Court of Malawi Zomba District Registry within two months.
Said the judge: “If mediation fails, then the court shall continue with submissions on originating summons on 16th June 2018.”
Ntaba also ordered DPP to pay the costs the CSOs incurred in the case.
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.
Through its lawyer Chimwemwe Sikwese, the DPP argued that the CSOs were ineligible to take the matter to court and that the matter was not properly commenced; hence, it should be dismissed.
The DPP collected the funds from Blantyre City Council (BCC), Lilongwe City Council (LCC), Mzuzu City Council (MCC) and Lilongwe Water Board (LWB), among others.
Reacting to the ruling in an interview later, Sikwese said he would review the judgement and consult his clients before deciding the way forward.
On his part, lawyer representing BCC Bruno Matumbi only said: “I can’t say anything now because we have not conferred with our clients. They don’t know what has happened and we need to brief them first and then they will advise the way forward.”
But lawyer for the CSOs, Wesley Mwafulirwa, said he was delighted with the outcome of the court.
Cedep executive director Gift Trapence, who was in court when the judgement was delivered, said they were happy that the court has recognised their efforts “most importantly that as activists we have constitutional mandate to protect rights at all levels”.
He said: “So, for us that is a big win in terms of our work being recognised by our laws. We are happy that the impunity we have had with government officials managing our public purse perhaps will now end because they will know we have courts that are independent and we have citizens that can take them to court, so as activists we are motivated with the ruling.”
The CSOs sought a declaration of the court that the donations the public institutions made to DPP contravene the doctrine of public trust, the Constitution and the Public Finance Management ACT.
Under Section 178 of the Constitution and Section 23 of the Public Finance Management Act, no single tambala of public funds is supposed to be expended unless such expenditure is authorised by an Appropriation Act or is a statutory expenditure.