By Alick Ponje
Office of the Attorney General (AG) is reportedly scrutinising about K800 billion worth of compensation demands from lawyers representing different people in the country.
In essence, AG Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda is of the view that some claims—in their individual cases— appear fraudulent as they are apparently too hefty.
Just to put the total claimed amount into perspective: The nine-month national budget to be implemented between July 1 this year and March 31 next year is pegged at K1.995 trillion.
While the K800 billion, even if it was assessed and approved, would never be accommodated in one financial year, it represents 40 percent of this shorter year’s financial blueprint.
Now, these are claims which should have been avoided in the first place.
People claim compensations for various reasons such as unfair dismissal, constructive dismissal, false imprisonment and negligence of public officers.
In all these instances, there should have been the possibility of a public officer doing the right thing to ensure government would not get trapped in avoidable cases.
For instance, people have been arrested before on trumped-up charges simply because they hold dissenting views to those of the powers that be.
There even are those who get arrested because they have constitutionally exercised their freedoms which border on speech or conscience.
Overzealous officers will rush to arrest such people and fail to convince judges that there was really a case for which someone would be arrested.
There are also scenarios where the government side deliberately fails to show up before the court to prosecute a case until the presiding judge or magistrate is forced to discharge the defendants.
They end up suing the government and demanding millions of kwacha.
In other cases, some people working in the public service have been dismissed unfairly or have been forced, by actions of their bosses, to leave their jobs and end up seeking compensation from the government.
In such cases, the ones who make the decisions which affect their subordinates or anyone below them clearly know that they are doing something illegal but often get blinded by politics, hatred and that feeling that even if the affected employee goes to court, it would be the AG defending the government and taxpayers covering compensation if so granted.
We have also had cases where medical personnel’s negligence results in death or permanent deformities in bodies of patients who later seek compensation from the government.
There even are instances where police officers act beyond the standard tenets of their work up to the point of having suspects dying in their custody or being injured.
Sometimes, the officers simply become overzealous and commit crimes which have to be later offset by the government through compensations.
The Buleya Lule and Msundwe cases are common recent ones where government has parted ways or will soon part ways with dozens of millions of kwacha simply because some public officer failed to do their job according to their profession’s guidelines.
Of course, as Nyirenda observes, there are claims which are just too unrealistic, but the most important thing is to avoid the claims altogether in the first place.
“Sometimes I get surprised when lawyers just dream up figures. Lawyers have to be careful when they are receiving instructions for claims. I have got so many claims where lawyers are claiming and manufacturing clients’ issues,” the AG is quoted as having said.
Conversely, his realisation and acknowledgement that some claims are dubious mean he has to fight them until justice gets credibly served.
Recently, musician Fredokiss, real name Penjani Kalua, and two others have claimed K800 million from government for false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and damages for defamation.
The matter relates to the arrest of the three in June last year. They were accused of handing out cash to prospective voters in Rumphi District.
The State withdrew the case in September last year and was granted 12 months within which to take the matter back to court if there would be evidence.
Whether Kalua and his two colleagues get compensated and if they do, how much, will depend on how the AG handles the matter.
In another recent case, two families in Mzimba are demanding K450 million for alleged police negligence which led to the torching of their property.
The police allegedly failed to respond to numerous alerts that some people were plotting to undertake the acts.
Now that the information and figures about the demands are coming out in the open, it is important that the nation engages in serious conversations about such claims and whether negligent public officers should pay their price too.
Nyirenda is determined to fight the claims.
“When you are filing a case in court, you make a sworn statement, stating that whatever is said is true to the best of your knowledge and you understand that when you say something that is false, you will be liable for perjury,” he says.
The fight is worthwhile and must be undertaken with all the vitality it deserves.
Yet again, it is also imperative to acknowledge that some compensation would not have arisen in the first place if someone did their job right.