Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) has been asked to pay about K29 million in damages for withdrawing a job offer for a communications officer on alleged political grounds.
In a letter dated August 8 2019, LWB offered journalist Prince Henderson a post of communications officer, which was withdrawn five days later on what the board says the “need to carry out due diligence”.
Henderson, who had accepted and signed the offer, through White and Cross Law Consultants is now demanding a sum of K28 979 576.00 being damages for “unilateral termination and breach of employment contract, damages for unfair dismissal and unfair labour practices and damages for reputational and emotional torture,” according to a demand letter dated November 23 2019, addressed to the then LWB chief executive officer Alfonso Chikuni.
Chikuni, personally, signed the offer letter dated August 8 2019, which in part reads: “Following your submission of a Curriculum Vitae in August 2019, I am pleased to inform you that you have been appointed as communications officer [non-established] in grade LWB 6 on fixed term contract of two years commencing on the day you will report for duties”.
Henderson, according to correspondence we have seen, accepted the offer and indicated that he would report for duties on September 2 2019, but on August 13 2019, the board withdrew the employment offer, in another letter signed by Chikuni.
“We regret to withdraw the offer to carry out due diligence and background checks. Our final position will be known after conducting this exercise. Any inconvenience this may have caused is regretted,” reads the withdrawal letter in part.
Once Henderson was appointed into this position, one known pro-ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) facebook page; Cadet Eyes announced the appointment with a posted picture showing Henderson in the company of immediate-past vice-president and UTM leader Saulos Chilima. The insinuation of the post and some comment was that Henderson was a Chilima sympathiser; hence, did not deserve the appointment.
This is also captured in the demand letter to LWB: “Our client informs us that due to unsupported, unrelated allegations of our client’s involvement with Dr. Saulos Chilima through social media, you without basis and with no reason withdrew his appointment on August 13 2019. In your letter, unprecedentedly and untimely, you contended to carry out due diligence and background checks, and to date, our client has not heard from you”.
The demand letter had given LWB seven days and at the expiry of the ultimatum, Nation on Sunday engaged Chikuni who said the matter was being looked into by the board’s attorneys.”
In a letter dated December 5, through Likongwe and Company, LWB stated that they saw no reason in paying for damages when Henderson’s employment was terminated before rendering any service.
“Our client states that there were legitimate reasons for withdrawing the offer of employment to your client. Our client thus denies unfairly dismissing your client. Having offered no service to our client, we do not see how your client should be entitled to the claimed sum,” reads the letter.
With this response, Henderson’s lawyer Preston Matanda said they are taking the matter to court with instruction from his client.
“The response from the board, through its lawyers, is very empty and unfortunate as it does not in particular address the issues which were raised in the demand letter,” he argued.