Malawi: Apm Lawyer Concludes Suleman Grilling

Lilongwe — Lawyer for incumbent president, Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika in the ongoing presidential elections case, Frank Mbeta has concluded cross-examining Daudi Suleman, final witness for Malawi Congress Party's Lazarus Chakwera.

Mbeta, who is representing Mutharika as the first respondent in a case in which the Malawi Congress Party and the UTM are challenging the results of the May 21, 2019 Presidential election at the constitutional court, attempted to discredit both Suleman's qualifications and evidence during the process that lasted almost five hours.

Mbeta begun his cross-examination by attempting to discredit the competence of Suleman, who presented his evidence to the court as an IT expert. The lawyer begun by questioning the witness on the role that he played in the 2015 NBS Bank system failure saga that resulted in the bank being fined K50Million by the Reserve Bank. However, the line of questioning quickly drew objection from the second petitioner's lawyers, who argued that Mbeta was disregarding the privacy of the witness and the bank. They also argued that the witness' character was not on the checklist that the first respondent had indicated they will cross-examine the witness on.

The objection was however, overruled by the presiding judge, Healy Potani who said that there was no problem with questions targeting the witness' character and competency as the witness had presented his evidence as an IT expert. Potani also said that since the NBS saga was already in the public domain, there was no problem with counsel questioning the witness on the same.

Mbeta also pointed out to the court that despite his claims, Suleman was not the first Malawian to hold qualifications under CISCO, as there were other Malawians who held the qualification before 2009 when the witness says he obtained his certification.

After questions aimed at discrediting the witness' qualifications and competence, the lawyer then begun questioning the witness on the contents of his sworn statement. The witness was thus asked questions to establish the stage at which computerization of the results management work-flow begun, considering that his evidence was based on the assumption that the process was electronic.

During the afternoon session, Mbeta also tried to discredit the witness's allegations that some information in the database was deleted. This was done through running some queries on the Malawi Electoral Commission's servers and gadgets that Suleman had used to simulate and demonstrate his evidence.

After the cross-examination, Mbeta said the cross-examination had allowed them to show that some of the things that the witness was alleging were wrong, citing as an example in which the witness was 'computerizing each and every process of the results management process when there were other processes that were done manually'.

"We have shown how his findings were wrong as he was using wrong tables and wrong codes. The witness was also making a mistake of computerizing every process when other processes were being done manually. For instance, verification by auditors and endorsement and verification of the results by the commissioners were being done manually in which tally sheets were being printed," Mbeta said.

He added that the issue of the ghost users that the witness had mentioned in his simulations came about simply because the witness was not able to find the audit trail as he was using a wrong code, which made it impossible for him to find out who logged into the system.

After completion of cross-examination, lawyer for Lazarus Chakwera, who is the second petitioner in the case, Mordechai Msiska begun the re-examination. The process, which went on for about 45 minutes and is scheduled to be finalized Thursday morning was mainly focused on clarifying on the areas that did not come out clearly during the cross-examination of the witness by both the first and the second respondents.

Commenting on the first part of the re-examination, Msiska said that his witness had done well in clearing the air on some of the negative things that were being suggested about him.

"The court process allows that a witness can clarify on some issues and the witness has cleared the air on his qualifications and competencies, things that were being questioned by the lawyers for the respondents. The witness has also clarified that what happened at NBS Bank in 2015 was not his responsibility," Msiska said.

Hearing of the case resumed Thursday morning at 9 am, where Msiska is expected to finalize the re-examination of Suleman. After the re-examination, the court will then proceed to commence hearing the evidence of the respondents, beginning with the witnesses for the first respondent. Before the court adjourned on Wednesday evening, Frank Mbeta has indicated to the court that their team will only parade two witnesses in the name of Ben Phiri and Bob Chimkango.

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