Government is set to pay former postmaster general Andrew Kumbatira K164 million as an out-of-court settlement for illegal termination of contract.
According to documents Nation on Sunday has seen, the former postmaster general sued the State at the Industrial Relations Court for illegal termination of contract, arguing that government had fired him without proper grounds after it informed him his contract had expired in 2016.
Kumbatira, according to a letter we have seen from Attorney General to Secretary to Treasury on his terminal benefits, was appointed Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) executive director on August 17 2014 before expiry of the contract he signed in 2013 at Malawi Posts Corporation.
The letter says Kumbatira’s contract at Macra was prematurely terminated on July 30 2015, just 11 months into the contract, and was reappointed Postmaster General, but the appointment letter did not indicate tenure of contract.
The documents we have seen add that when government informed Kumbatira that his reappointment meant that he was continuing his 2013 contract and that it was expiring in December 2016, Kumbatira argued that his letter of appointment as Postmaster General had no duration of contract; hence, was supposed to work in the civil service until the retirement age of 60.
Documents further indicate that as a consequence, Kumbatira and his lawyers demanded a payment of K750 million as terminal benefits, but the two parties have settled for K164 million.
The decision has sparked questions over the AG’s move with a senior government official, arguing that the AG should have challenged the matter in court instead of rushing for an out of court settlement.
“Every chief executive officer of a government parastatal is on a contract and each contract has a specific time frame, this payment is being done but the State can easily avoid it because it doesn’t have to. Kumbatira’s argument that he was appointed without a duration inserted can be challenged,” argued the government employee close to the matter.
In an interview, Kumbatira refused to comment on the matter but acknowledged that there was a court case involving him and government.
“No comment. I really would prefer not to comment,” he said.
But AG Charles Mhango, through an e-mail response by the Ministry of Justice spokesperson Pilirani Masanjala, defended the payout.
“The matter was settled out of court. So, there was no need to have the AG challenge it in court. Let me mention that when the matter came to the office of the Attorney General, it was opined that the plaintiff was entitled to much less than what he was claiming and the lawyer for the plaintiff agreed. So, a settlement was reached on the terms proposed by the AG,” reads part of the response.
Kumbatira had signed a three-year contract with Macra but after it was terminated eleven months into the contract, he was reappointed Postmaster General on a new three-year contract.
He duly signed the new contract and received benefits up to the time it expired.