HARARE – National Assembly speaker Jacob Mudenda has hailed the High Court decision to invalidate the State Liabilities Act, which was being used by government to evade paying its dues.
He said the development was “a major victory for the rule of law”.
Last week, the High Court ruled that the State Liabilities Act, which barred litigants from attaching government property, was unconstitutional under a new charter adopted in 2013.
The Act was viewed by critics as a backdoor way by government to shirk responsibility.
The March 15 landmark ruling was handed down after Mutare businessman Tendai Blessing Mangwiro — through his lawyer Tawanda Zhuwarara — approached the court seeking an order to invalidate the statute after failing to find recourse despite numerous court orders for him to be reimbursed his $1,5 million confiscated by the police.
The money was impounded by the law enforcement agency following his 2008 arrest, before his subsequent acquittal on theft charges.
In the application, Mangwiro cited Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo and attorney general Prince Machaya, as respondents.
High Court judge Judith Mushore ruled last Wednesday that the State Liabilities Act must be invalidated as it is inconsistent with the new Constitution.
Mudenda, an advocate, said Mangwiro had his constitutional rights vindicated.
“I was impressed by the High Court’s ruling… he was owed over $1,5m by government,” he told an editors workshop on the functions of the Public Accounts Committee in Gweru last weekend.
“And the rule of law says all are equal before the law. And the ministers responsible for that debt had reneged badly and then they went on to hide behind the State Liabilities Act Section 5, which says you cannot attach government property,” he said.
“So this gentleman argued ‘why should I not attach government property if I’m owed? I have the right to the protection of the law’ and the High Court agreed with him because $1,5m is a lot of money, so the court will say attach,” Mudenda said.
The State had unsuccessfully argued that the State Liabilities Act is acceptable in a democratic society, that government property belongs to the citizens and cannot be attached for the benefit of individuals.
The State also argued there could be more people who have similar judgments that have not been executed.
While Justice Mushore referred the matter to the Constitutional Court for confirmation of the order, it was not immediately clear if Mnangagwa and Chombo will appeal against the ruling.
“It will be very interesting to see whether the minister concerned will appeal to the Supreme Court.
“They will be wasting their time. They must save their time and just pay that man,” Mudenda said, adding they cannot ignore a direct judicial order.
Writing the High Court decision, Justice Mushore said: “If Section 5 (2) is being used to frustrate justice as is clearly the case in the present matter, then Section 5 (2) is not justifiable in a democratic society based upon openness, justice, fairness, human dignity, equality and freedom.”