Bringing to light issues affecting speedy justice delivery

May 29, 2014

Prisoners at Maula Prison in Lilongwe. Photo: Joao Silva

Maurice Kaunda, 34, married with one child has been on remand at Nkhata-Bay prison for over 8 years now. He is a homicide suspect.

“I was arrested in July 2006 after being accused of murdering a certain man who was found dead in Nkhata-Bay. That time I was staying in Lilongwe and I was not aware of this issue, unfortunately the people who committed this crime were my friends and I got picked from Lilongwe and was arrested together with them even though I was not involved,” explained Kaunda.

Although he feels he has overstayed on remand, Kaunda says he doesn’t know yet when his case will be heard.  “I have no idea when I will get out of this place. It pains me seeing friends having their cases heard and sentenced accordingly. In my case, I have my witness and I know I did not commit this crime; however, I don’t get a chance to be heard. My child is suffering because there is no one to care for her as she lives with my old grandmother in the village. I am not even sure if she is still attending school and my fear is that this will have a longtime negative effect on her life if she doesn’t get the education,” he said.

Kaunda’s case is the tip of an iceberg about cases found in different prisons across the country which raises questions about whether there is an enabling environment guided by appropriate legislation, strategies and policies in place.

It is against such backgrounds that the Democratic Governance Support Programme is being implemented by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs (MOJCA) to support implementation of the Democratic Governance Sector Strategy (DGSS) through a sector wide approach that will help address hindrances and deliver speedy services in justice and accountability sub-sectors.

In April 2014, the MOJCA and UNDP conducted stakeholder familiarization workshops for the democratic governance sector strategy and policy framework paper in Karonga, Mzuzu, Nkhata-Bay and Kasungu districts.

Speaking at one of the workshops in Kasungu, team-leader from the MOJCA, Mr. Brightson Simtowe, reminded the gathering that for democratic governance to prevail, there is need to move beyond mere procedures of democracy and establishment of democratic institutions.

District Commissioner for Nkhata-Bay Fred Movete commended the initiative, saying for such an initiative to benefit the community, there is need to use the district decentralization structures. He gave an example of Nkhata-Bay, which has a number of courts that are not functional.

Supt. Gastone Malisya of Nkhata-Bay prison echoed Movete’s sentiments, saying one of the challenges that the district prison was facing related to overcrowding.

“The prison infrastructure is very old and small. It is currently accommodating 180 inmates against the initial capacity of 80. This leads to poor sanitation, resulting in the spread of infectious diseases like ring worms,” he said.

However, despite the progress that has been made in improving democratic governance as manifested in ongoing legal and policy reforms, coupled with the establishment of key institutions of governance, there are still systemic, operational, institutional and other challenges that place significant hurdles against the momentum of democracy in Malawi.

With the strategy in place, prisoners like Kaunda are assured of getting timely justice, for justice delayed is justice denied.

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