The High Court in Lilongwe has set aside directions the office of the Ombudsman made in 2019 for reinstating some employees at the National Library Service (NLS).
In her ruling delivered on August 3 2021, High Court judge Ruth Chinangwa observed that the office of the Ombudsman does not have jurisdiction over complaints tenable at the Industrial Relations Court (IRC).
The office of the Ombudsman in August last year directed that NLS reinstate about 10 ex-employees following investigations that were prompted by complaints they lodged, claiming unfair dismissals and labour practices and redundancy.
The ex-NLS staff had also alleged that there was abuse of office by the national librarian Gray Nyali and his deputy Vote Somba who acquired institution houses and misallocation of funds by management.
Following the recommendations, NLS Board challenged the Ombudsman’s directions on the basis that the IRC has statutory jurisdictions over such matters unlike the public protector.
The board also wanted the court to set aside the declaration by the Ombudsman that alleged abuse of office by the national librarian and his deputy and declare it unconstitutional as the magistrate’s court and High Court have original criminal jurisdiction over such complaints.
But while the court set aside directions on the reinstatement, it upheld the Ombudsman’s directions on NLS Board to review conditions of service so that they are aligned to the Constitution and Employment Act.
The court has also upheld directions on investigations into the alleged sale of institutional houses to both the national librarian and his deputy and that management must institute disciplinary hearings on officers involved in the alleged misappropriation of funds.
But when contacted yesterday, spokesperson at the office of the Ombudsman Arthur Semba, asked for more time to read the ruling before responding.
However, a letter from the office of the Ombudsman to the concerned staff states that the directions upheld by the court will still have to be followed.
The letter dated August 4 2021 further advises the concerned staff to lodge a complaint with the IRC as per the court’s ruling.
Reads the letter in part: “Considering that the aspects highlighted occurred in or about May and June 2019 you can still
bring your matter before the IRC to claim for the unfair dismissals and unfair labour practices.
“Should you need assistance you are at liberty to approach the Legal Aid Bureau for assistance. In the meantime the office of the Ombudsman will continue to monitor those directives the court upheld.”
In May this year, the High Court in Blantyre rebuffed former Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) director general (DG) Godfrey Itaye’s application to put aside the Ombudsman’s determination to nullify his employment.
Former Ombudsman Martha Chizuma in a report titled Secure in Deception, nullified contracts of former DG’s Itaye and Henry Shamu alongside other directors and managers for unlawful recruitment.
An additional 16 employment contracts were also nullified for various reasons following an investigation by the office of the Ombudsman into how Itaye and others were recruited by Macra.