MDC Alliance president Mr Nelson Chamisa’s stunt to challenge President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s victory in the July 30 polls, even against the advise of some principals in the opposition party’s grouping who viewed Zimbabwe's judiciary system as not being independent, has backfired spectacularly after it emerged that the party is now grappling to settle the resultant $3,2 million legal bill.
The Constitutional Court unanimously dismissed with costs Mr Chamisa’s Presidential election court petition on August 24, which means the party has the burden to meet the legal bills of all the parties that took part in the proceedings. Zanu-PF assembled a 12-member legal team led by Advocate Lewis Uriri for the court case. President Mnangagwa’s lawyers recently billed Mr Chamisa’s representatives, claiming the costs as ordered by the court.
But the MDC Alliance, which claims the invoice is “exaggerated”, is yet to respond to the demand for payment a fortnight afterreceiving the bill. It is, however, believed that the deadlocked parties could soon seek arbitration from the Registrar of the Court, who could determine the bill through a process called taxation of costs.
Taxation of costs is the process performed by the court upon resolution of a civil case where representatives of the claimant and defendant fail to agree on the quantum of costs as ordered by the court. Our Harare Bureau learnt last week that Dube, Manikai and Hwacha Legal Practitioners, the instructing firm to President Mnangagwa’s legal team, invoiced Mr Chamisa’s lawyers a bill of around $3,2 million.
That figure excludes costs for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and Mr Elton Mangoma’s lawyers.
Mr Canaan Dube of Dube, Manikai and Hwacha legal practitioners, who was the instructing counsel to President Mnangagwa’s legal team, said a response from Mr Chamisa’s lawyers has not been forthcoming.
He said: “What happens is when you go to court and a judgement is delivered and if you are successful, you are entitled to recover your costs. What you recover depends on the attitude of the losing party. The party that is granted the costs bills the losing party and if they both agree, the bills are paid.
“If the parties fail to agree, we go through a process that is called taxation, which is led by the courts taxing master who looks at the bill item by item and then decides whether the bill is fair or not. We wrote to them sometime last week or the week before that and we haven’t heard from them since then. Obviously, we cannot discuss these matters in the Press because they are confidential matters and it may jeopardise the whole process. The negotiations are a process and not an event and sometimes the communication can come through a phone call, so we don’t know when they will respond.”
He said they have ensured that their bill is fair, just and reasonable. He said the law and the rules of the courts do not prescribe a period when the bills should be settled. Zanu-PF Secretary for Legal Affairs Cde Paul Mangwana, who was also part of the President’s legal team, said if the matter is not resolved soon, the parties will resort to the taxation process.
Said Cde Mangwana: “The lawyers from both sides are negotiating and we haven’t yet resolved the matter; in particular, the quantum of the costs as ordered by the court. If the lawyers fail to reach an agreement, we will take the matter to court for resolution through a process known as taxation. What happens is if you win a case with costs, your lawyers sends a bill of estimates to the other side to see if they agree with your quantification.
“That is where we are now. The lawyers have been exchanging notes over the last few weeks and negotiations are ongoing. If they do not reach a resolution, the Registrar of Court will, through the process of taxation, go through the claimant’s bill to see whether he has charged appropriately. I cannot discuss how much we have claimed because those matters are confidential.”
MDC-Alliance secretary-general Mr Douglas Mwonzora said his boss will invoke the process of taxation of costs.
“We were advised that they have billed us for the costs as ordered by the court,” said Mr Mwonzora.
“In our view, the bill is extremely excessive, not bonafide and grossly exaggerated and our lawyers are going to contest it. We are told that they have billed us a figure of around US$3, 2 million. There is a process called taxation where if we fail to agree on the bill the court will have to go through the bill and determine what is fair. The bill we have at the moment is grossly malicious.”
Mr Chamisa’s spokesperson Dr Nkululeko Sibanda did not respond to questions sent by our Harare Bureau despite promising to do so by yesterday morning. While the final bill requires approval by the Registrar of the Court, failure to settle the bill by the opposition leader will result in loss of personal property. The opposition party is facing serious financial distress after being abandoned by its traditional sponsors.
To raise funds for settling the back-breaking ConCourt bill, the party resorted to multi-platform crowd-funding initiatives, which have however failed to gain any traction. A gofundme initiative created on August 26, with a target of raising £100 000 Pounds has received lukewarm reception, raising only £22 000 pounds by yesterday afternoon. The last donation of £20 was made five days ago.
The party, which is facing a myriad of financial difficulties, also risks seizure of its property over a labour case involving former director-general Toendepi Shonhe. Last month, the High Court sheriff was instructed to attach party property over $264 000 in labour damages awarded to Shonhe. A total of 16 other ex-employees won a challenge at the Labour Court after they were fired in 2014 over alleged links to a rival opposition outfit led by former Finance Minister Tendai Biti. All 17 employees are owed $665 000, but the writ of seizure was issued last week in respect of Shonhe’s $264 444.