The Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) has moved to challenge the controversial award of over K750 million in an out of court settlement to former Local Government principal secretary Christopher Makileni.
Attorney General (AG) Chikosa Silungwe signed a consent agreement with Makileni amounting to K754 million, including vehicle replacement and fuel amounting to K200 million and K54 million respectively, prompting an immediate backlash.
According to court documents, OPC, through lawyer Thabo Nyirenda, has also asked the Industrial Relations Court to set aside contempt of court proceedings that Makileni, through his lawyers, had commenced against the Secretary to the President and Cabinet (SPC) Zangazanga Chikhosi and his deputy Janet Banda over the two officials’ refusal to comply with the consent order.
Nyirenda in an interview confirmed that OPC has instructed him to challenge both the consent order and the contempt of court charges, but declined to provide any details on the matter.
Both Silungwe and one of the lawyers for Makileni, Paul Maulidi, separately confirmed that the two sides will now engage in talks to renegotiate the settlement.
The AG on Tuesday reiterated that the negotiations for consent order were conducted prior to his assuming office and said the view of government was that the matter be discussed again by both sides.
He also confirmed that one of the options being discussed is for government to redeploy Makileni while the office considers a proposal to recompute the benefits which initially had been calculated on the premise that he was expected to retire with full benefits at the age of 60.
Said Silungwe: “What has happened today in court is that we asked our lawyer to ask the court to adjourn the contempt of court issue because we believe this is not a matter that is so important. These are issues we can discuss out of court, because Mr Makileni had filed charges against the two in their personal capacity.”
On his part, Maulidi also confirmed that the two sides have started the process of renegotiating the settlement, but was quick to add it was too early to indicate whether Makileni will accept redeployment or insist on being compensated.
He said: “The answer is that as far as we know, we are still demanding the amount which we agreed before today, but we have been consulted to consider certain things. What I can tell you is that there was nothing wrong with the figures which were agreed on, but the AG and OPC are now suggesting new terms and other ways of solving the matter. At the moment, it’s too early to say this is what we will settle for. “
According to court documents, Makileni’s lawyer on September 22 2020 filed a notice of motion for contempt of court against the State and officials in their personal capacity.
OPC, however, argues against the contempt of court on grounds, among others; (a) that the applicant has failed to cite any rule under which the motion for contempt of court has been brought; (b) that the alleged contemnors were not personally served with the order subject of the contempt charges; (c) that the contempt of court proceedings are irregular there being no leave to commence contempt of court proceedings. The application for leave was supposed to be heard before a judicial officer other than the one who made the decision subject of the contempt charges.
The court has since adjourned the matter, which is being presided by the court’s vice-chairperson Kondwani Banda, to October 28 this year.
According to sources in government, Makileni who was redeployed to OPC amid a disciplinary investigation into his role in alleged illegal promotion of district commissioners when he was PS was still on government salary and enjoying vehicle and fuel benefits when he sued for constructive dismissal.
The controversial settlement, signed by Silungwe, included a pension amount of K216 635 824; compensation for loss of use of motor vehicle amounting to K205 500 000; salaries amounting to K269 700 000; and fuel amounting to K63 000 000, totalling K754 835 824.
Deputy SPC Janet Banda confirmed last week that government has asked the AG to withdraw the settlement.
She said: “We are aware of this matter and the Honourable Attorney General has been served. We have requested the Attorney General to impeach the Consent Order for fraud and misrepresentations it was signed in a rush and without the authority of the new SPC in the month of August though he was in office.”
She added that government was confident “the Hon AG will handle this matter prudently as it involves tax payers’ money which should be protected where necessary”.
Silungwe, on his part, confirmed signing the agreement, but said the negotiations over the settlement were already completed before he took office.