If you are a civil servant and were personally responsible for a bad decision that costs taxpayers’ money in compensations, you may now pay for it yourself, not government.
This is what government is considering doing to reign in on negligence and inefficiency in the public service, Attorney General (AG) Kalekeni Kaphale has confirmed.
Kaphale said in an interview on Friday that in the event that litigation is a result of proven individual recklessness, then the law provides that the money be recovered from the individual who has caused the litigation.
This could mean responsible officers, including doctors, nurses and other government employees nationwide, paying millions of kwacha every time government loses a case against a person who feels injured.
According to a Ministry of Justice source, the office of the AG noted that over 90 percent of the litigations currently against government are due to poor judgement by public officers, yet it is the taxpayers that bear the full brunt of individual mistakes.
The source explained that government will be recovering money from individual public servants’ salary, pension, and gratuity and even forfeiting personal property to pay for the costs.
But Civil Servant Trade Union (CSTU) president Servace Sakala said they expect government to consult them before implementing such a policy.
“We would like to understand how the implementation of such polices would affect ordinary workers. Civil servants work in different environments, they would have different concerns,” he said, adding that he cannot comment more until he sees the policy in writing.
Our source said the Ministry of Health is leading in draining taxpayers’ money through compensations as it is becoming one of the most sued ministries due to officers’ negligence in the health delivery system.
In the 2013/14 financial year alone, government paid out K10 billion in litigation and developmental compensations out of the K13 billion that was allocated to “pensions and refunds”, according to the Ministry of Finance.
Despite the K10 billion payout—almost equivalent to K10.3 billion allocation to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the same financial year—Kaphale said the outstanding bill remains north of K100 billion.
Treasury spokesperson Nations Msowoya said yesterday that this year’s compensations budget, mostly comprises litigation and relocation of people who have been affected by government-funded development projects such as hospitals and schools and litigation.
“As government we only have one budget line for all compensations and refunds and this is not broken down by departments. The only figure we budget for is compensations for people who have been affected by government projects like road projects, construction of other public infrastructure like hospitals, barrage, schools etc. As for the other type of compensations emanating from court cases and maladministration, those are difficult to budget for because we don’t plan to lose cases,” sad Msowoya.
He said Treasury does not know the amount of unpaid compensation, saying the cases are processed through various offices, including Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) and Ministry of Justice.
“We only receive the final request for funding and payment and as such there is not any interest accruing to it,” said Msowoya.
He, however, said the only backlog that is there”…relates to court cases and is due to challenges of cash flow in the last financial year. As for compensations for project-related issues, we are very current.”
On his part, Kaphale said his office was aware of the huge outstanding bills that government owes people which, he said, came about because his office was not defending cases before the court due to financial and human resource challenges.
Kaphale said most of the cases against government were going unopposed, which forced judges to enter default judgments, adding that his office is trying to manage the situation.
“We are moving towards zero default judgment rates,” he said.
Kaphale said his office will be moving towards identifying ministries and organisations that generate a lot of litigations and train them in measures to follow to avoid implications of the decisions they make.
“We will ensure that all ministries have access to one or two lawyers that would help before making any decision. If the lawyers find it difficult, they will be referring the matter to my office,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kaphale said he also intends to propose that costs of litigations and payment of the costs of the cases should be borne by the responsible ministry to improve efficiency.
“Once the ministry loses the case, money should be deducted from their budget allocation so that the ministry should feel the implications of the decisions they make,” he said. He added that ministries should also be billed for the usage of the Attorney General.
“They have to be paying for costs of the office of the Attorney General if they want the officer to defend their cases. Most of the cases are given default judgment because the AG’s office is underfunded and cannot be going to defend all the cases,” Kaphale said.
Our Ministry of Justice source indicated that there was an increase in litigations against government lately, a development he attributed to people being aware of their rights.
The source said the two ministries leading the costs of compensation are Health, due to negligence, and Lands, due to land development and allocation -related transactions.
“Ministry of Health is emerging as the most sued ministry because people are now aware of their rights. People are turning every misfortune that takes place at the hospital as money-making opportunity,” said the source.
The Ministry of Health did not respond to our questionnaire for comment.
The source said when there are more lawsuits, as is the case now, government takes long to address them leading to uncontested rulings from the courts.
In most cases, delays in payment of compensation attract huge interests, leading to government accumulating arrears.
The source said government also wants to change its compensation funding strategy by factoring in compensation into each ministry’s vote. Currently, government forwards all compensation funds to Treasury for payment.
To clear the backlog of compensation payments, government will start paying off individuals and organisations whose amounts are less than K10 million, according to the Ministry of Justice official.