Taxpayers face a whopping K23 trillion claim from about 23 000 victims of various atrocities committed during the one-party rule of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) between 1964 and 1994.
But Attorney General Thabo Chakaka-Nyirenda has argued that the amount claimed is “not economically correct” to be paid by the Malawi Government, as such, his office and Ministry of National Unity have moved to engage the claimants on the best way to resolve the matter.
The claim will add to the K2 trillion compensation claims from the public purse made by various sectors as of December 2021. Besides, there are fresh claims being made on issues such as breach of commercial contracts, false imprisonment and alleged unlawful withdraw of land.
The K23 trillion claim follows a report the Office of the Ombudsman released in 2017 following an investigation which revealed that politicians abused the National Compensation Tribunal (NCT) set up by the first multiparty administration led by president Bakili Muluzi and United Democratic Front.
Titled ‘Malawi’s unhealed wounds’, the report ordered government to settle about 15 000 claims unsettled by the tribunal which was shut down in 2006. Government was given three months to make the settlement.
Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) executive director Michael Kaiyatsa, whose organisation lodged the complaint, yesterday said while they understand the need to reach a compromise with government, the reparations should equal the violations committed and not be uniform as people suffered differently.
He said: “We agree that there must be a middle ground, but remember people suffered differently.
“We urge government to do this quickly because any delays will lead to the claims increasing in costs.”
In an interview from the United Kingdom last evening, Nyirenda said each of the 23 000 victims is between several hundreds of millions and several billions of kwacha, with many averaging K1 billion and above.
He said while there is pressure to pay out the victims, it may not be economically practical to do so, especially considering that the amounts being claimed are huge than what the country can bear.
Nyirenda said: “Look, the tribunal offered the compensations, some were paid and others were not paid in full. We have one who was offered K500 million, he was not paid and he has come claiming the count with interest. That’s billions of kwacha.
“When you look at our fiscal budget, it’s around K3 trillion and then look at K23 trillion, are we sure things will be okay if we pay? So, for me, while some things could be legally correct, they may not be socially or economically correct. We need a middle way.”
He said the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament also summoned him on the claim and he told them it was not economical.
Nyirenda said there are also several claims for compensation to do with the Malawi Rural Electrification Programme where electricity poles pass through people’s gardens.
Minister of National Unity Timothy Mtambo said they are currently working on developing a National Healing and Building Programme to make every citizen feel part of the country.
He said: “We are working with many stakeholders, including the AG on this. Imagine we pay out that amount, will the country survive? Even when you look at the Ombudsman’s report, it talks about a negotiated approach.
“We must all feel loved, and everyone must put the country first. We are working towards building such a society and we have hope that we will reach a middle ground.”
In 1994, the Muluzi administration formed the National Compensation Tribunal to pay off victims of the one party regime.
And in his maiden State of the Nation Address delivered in Parliament in September 2020, President Lazarus Chakwera promised to constitute a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to handle complaints about his party’s past human rights abuses.