Vice President Khumbo Kachali has come under criticism from commentators for agitating for the prosecution of consumer rights activist John Kapito whose body is leading the organisation of demonstrations scheduled for January 17.
Speaking at a rally addressed by President Joyce Banda in Lilongwe on Saturday, Kachali called on the Minister of Justice to revive the cases against the outspoken Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) executive director.
“Kapito should not forget he has several criminal cases on his back. He must know that we know that he was arrested for illegal possession of US dollars; we know that he was found with malicious documents. He must remember we know all these cases and that they are still there,” said Kachali.
Kachali said he had said this as a reminder to the Minister of Justice that Kapito still had outstanding cases which needed to be looked into.
But reacting to Kachali’s remarks, Malawi Law Society (MLS) President, John Gift Mwakhwawa, has described the sentiments as irresponsible and a threat to the prosecuting authority and the justice system in general.
Mwakhwawa said it is not the responsibility of the minister or the vice president or any politician to decide cases to be prosecuted. Rather it is the mandate of Director of Public Prosecution (DPP).
“It is very unfortunate. The office of the DPP is supposed to be independent of any influence. It enjoys this independence as guaranteed by the constitution. So when politicians make such statements, it greatly undermines that independence and [the remarks] have capacity of ridiculing the justice system in Malawi.
“People lose trust in the system because one is compelled to think that prosecution is at the discretion of political leadership or the executive,” said Mwakhwawa.
He urged Parliament to move in and question the executive against such tendencies.
Chancellor College Political Scientist Blessings Chinsinga said the move is a manifestation of a leadership and a government that is panicking in the run up to the January 17 consumer protests.
“What the vice president wants is that people should fear the government when in normal circumstances in democracy it is the government that is supposed to fear the people.
“They are simply out to hunt down people with dissenting views which is unfortunate because democracy thrives on diversity of views,” said Chinsinga.
Public Affairs Committee (Pac) Publicity Secretary Maurice Munthali emphasised on the need for the leadership to desist from interfering with the justice system.
He warned that even if charges against Kapito may be valid, Kachali’s remarks are likely to interfere with the process as people would think the prosecution was all on the basis of Kapito’s role in the forth coming demonstrations.
“The timing is wrong. Why is the ministry being reminded about Kapito’s case now when Cama is calling for demonstrations?
“Let me also remind the vice president that when you are living in a glass house don’t throw stones. I am not sure if he himself is completely clean of any offence in this country. There are things that he has said that are liable to legal redress,” said Munthali.
When contacted for comment spokesperson for the Vice president Kondwani Munthali denied that the Veep called for the arrest of Kapito saying it is becoming a habit of certain quarters to deliberately always put words into the mouth of the Vice President.
He said the veep’s speech was based on the challenge of foreign exchange and only used Kapito’s case as a reference that isssues of foriegn exchange were so sensitive in the past that even the Cama chief was arrested for being suspected of having acquired the same.
According to Munthali the case the Vice President referred to is a fact and he only said since the Justice Minister was around he can inform the nation of what was its outcome of the case.
“At no time did he [Veep] instruct anybody to arrest Kapito nor insinuate the same. Mr. Kapito as an advocate of free speech, a very transparent and accountable gentleman should first seek to listen to voices of reason and not use the Vice Presidents reference as a scapegoat to achieve fame at the expense of the well being of Malawians,” said Munthali.
However, Kapito has told the media that threats of prosecution will not silence him from speaking out on issues that affect consumers.
Cama is organising protests against floatation of the kwacha and executive extravagance, among other things, which it says have translated into hardship for consumers.
Kapito was arrested in 2011 on claims that he was found illegally possessing US dollars and with seditious documents.
The arrest came just two days before he left the country to attend a United Nations conference on human rights.
He was then chairperson of the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) and a vocal critic of the Mutharika government.