AG undecided on Shanghala’s plea
Three months after the attorney general was requested to foot the legal bill of his Fishrot-accused predecessor, the jury is still out on the matter
23 February 2021 | Local News
Attorney General (AG) Festus Mbandeka faces the unenviable task of having to decide whether to foot the legal bill of former Cabinet minister Sakeus Shanghala.
This is probably Mbandeka’s toughest decision since his appointment last year, especially with public debate raging around the country’s biggest fishing scandal - which Shanghala is accused of having co-masterminded - and the courts on numerous occasions denying the Fishrot accused persons bail because of it not being “in the interest of public justice”.
Shanghala, through his lawyers, in December 2020 submitted an application to the AG’s office seeking legal help. He wants government to provide legal representation or pay his legal fees.
The AG’s office, which has been reviewing the application for almost three months now, is yet to decide on the matter.
Some of Mbandeka’s predecessors have since weighed in on how they would have handled the matter, with a few saying the application is an uphill climb with no clear consensus on whether government should use taxpayers’ money to foot the legal bill of Shanghala, who faces a bevy of court charges ranging from fraud, money laundering and tax evasion.
Advocate Vekuii Rukoro, who served as AG between 1995 and 2000, said “the application clearly has no merit whatsoever”.
“Even though Mr Shanghala occupied the Office of the Attorney General at the time when he is alleged to have participated in the Fishrot scandal, the corrupt and associated criminal activities he is charged with do not fall within official duties as AG of the Republic,” he opined.
To the contrary, Rukoro said: “As and when he was engaging in those shenanigans, he effectively took himself outside the scope of his employment as AG and as such does not qualify for the State funding of his legal fees.”
He said the best Shanghala can do is to apply for normal State-funded legal aid as an indigent - if indeed his personal circumstances qualifies him for it.
“Defrauding the State while being AG is most certainly not part of the official duties of the AG,” he said.
Another of Mbandeka’s predecessors, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, said the matter depends on who OKed Shanghala’s actions.
“Well, it all depends; it is not a straightforward issue. If whatever he has done was done in the course of his duty, if he was assigned to do what he did, obviously then government should pay. But if what he did was his own assignment, then obviously we cannot expect government to pay,” she said.
Shanghala served as Iivula-Ithana’s special advisor for some time during her tenure as justice minister and AG.
She said she was very angry when the Fishrot scandal broke in November 2019 and she refused to visit him in prison.
“Then I cooled off and I started thinking like a parent and decided to go and visit,” she said.
Face the music
Ngarikutuke Tjiriange said he feels Shanghala should not expect government to foot the bill just because he was a minister.
“The matter needs to be thoroughly investigated to determine whether he made a deliberate mistake or not. If he messed up things on his own, he must not expect support,” the former AG, who served between 2000 and 2001, said.
Tjiriange called on government officials to focus on serving the populace instead of lining their pockets.
“Fishrot has nothing to do with government, hence those who commit crimes must face the music,” he said.
Meanwhile, current fisheries minister Dr Albert Kawana, who served as AG between 2008 and 2015, refused to comment on the matter, adding that doesn’t want to Mbandeka on the spot.
“Supposing his views are different from mine, tomorrow it will be me versus him and that maybe we are not pulling in the same direction. Just check with the colleague there who is responsible," Kawana said.