THE Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has spent over $1,5 trillion in legal fees since January opposing electoral petitions including the one currently before the High Court in which the commission is defending its decision not to announce the results of the presidential election, the Zimbabwe Independent can reveal.
The figure looks set to hit $2 trillion soon as the legal battle, in which the opposition MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai has filed an urgent petition with the High Court demanding that the ZEC release results for the presidential election held 13 days ago, intensifies.
Information to hand suggests that the ZEC has spent some $480 billion in just five days for court appearances made by its lawyer George Chikumbirike of Chikumbirike & Associates.
Chikumbirike spent an average of 40 hours in court from April 5 when the case went before the High Court to April 9 when Justice Tendai Uchena said he would deliver judgement on Monday.
Uchena said he needed time to look over the relevant statute quoted in the case and also that he needed time to “digest the submissions by both counsels”.
Chikumbirike yesterday denied receiveing $1,5 trillion from ZEC in legal fees. “That is not true at all. I am not at libertyÂ to disclose the figure, but I can assure you that it is not even anywhere near what you have. In fact some payments have not even been made,” Chikumbirike said.
It has also been established that the ZEC spent over $700 billion since January in legal fees fighting off other electoral petitions in ward, constituency, senatorial and presidential elections.
The amounts spent include legal fees spent fighting court challenges brought by Advocate Justin Chihota and Daniel Shumba who are challenging decisions made by the ZEC to bar them from contesting the presidential election.
It is unclear where the electoral body is getting the funding for its costly legal battles.
What is clear, however, is that Chikumbirike has been levying an average of $12 billion for every hour he has spent in court defending the ZEC.
Investigations also reveal that he has levied the ZEC additional fees for research and other attendances he has made on behalf of the electoral body’s top personnel and chairman, Justice George Chiweshe.
This would bring the combined legal fees paid by the ZEC to $1,5 trillion. The ZEC also paid Value Added Tax of 15% on the amounts.
Legal experts told the Independent that senior legal practitioners were allowed to levy a maximum rate of $12 billion an hour that was approved by the Law Society of Zimbabwe.
They said three criteria determined whether a lawyer was permitted to apply the maximum rate. These were the importance of the matter to the client, the amount of expertise required and the circumstances in which the case was being carried out.
“All three apply,” one lawyer said. “Victory in the case is of utmost importance to the ZEC and the circumstances in which the case is being carried out are self-evident for every Zimbabwean to see. Lastly, Chikumbirike is highly competent.”
Other ruling Zanu PF sources indicated that the party, which has refused to concede defeat to the MDC in both the parliamentary and presidential elections, had initially wanted to engage the services of Chikumbirike as legal advisor.
The move was dropped after it became clear that this would compromise the independence of the ZEC.
However, the ruling party sources indicated that Chikumbirike and Zanu PF’s legal team routinely compared notes.
“Our legal advisors are still comparing notes with the ZEC’s legal advisor (Chikumbirike),” said one Zanu PF politburo member.
The ZEC’s Deputy Chief Elections Officer, Utoile Silaigwana, refused to comment saying he was unaware of what amounts had been paid to Chikumbirike.
“I can’t comment on those matters. I am unaware of what has been paid. Maybe your sources can comment better,” he said.
By Kuda Chikwanda