The Ombudsman’s investigations have shown that politicians abused the National Compensation Tribunal (NCT) by influencing prioritisation and payments to politically-connected individuals at the expense of thousands of victims who remained unattended.
Ombudsman Martha Chizuma-Mwangonde has since ordered government to settle about 15 000 of claims unsettled by the NCT which was shut down in 2006 within three months.
The Ombudsman has also asked the office of the Attorney General (AG) to immediately start negotiations with the claimants’ representatives through a process overseen by a mediator agreed upon by both sides before January 31 2018 when the AG will be mandated to submit a report on outcomes of the negotiations.
The report, titled Malawi’s Unhealed Wounds and unveiled yesterday, also notes that there were discrepancies in terms of beneficiary politicians with connections to the then governing United Democratic Front (UDF) between 1994 to 2004 when the tribunal, set up to compensate people who suffered or lost property during the one party rule of Malawi Congress Party (MCP).
However, AG Charles Mhango yesterday said he could not immediately respond to the contents of the report, especially whether his office will be able to reach an agreement with the claimants’ representative on a final settlement.
“I have not seen the report; hence, it will be difficult to say whether we will be able to do as requested. My office receives millions of reports everyday so I cannot know whether indeed the report has already arrived at my office,” he said in an interview.
There was also no immediate reaction from the claimants’ representatives.
There are 15 219 members of Jehovah’s Witnesses who form the majority of the 23 616 claimants that complained to the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman has since ordered government, through the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), to issue an apology to the Jehovah’s Witnesses within 28 days.
Members of the church were exiled and lost property after becoming a banned and persecuted organisation during the one-party era.
The Ombudsman also ordered government to construct a community centre and a monument in Moto Village in Mangochi where the whole community of villagers was arrested up to two years following the Henry Masauko Chipembere uprising of 1971.
The report reveals that there was a hurry to pay prominent politicians with some political figures of that era paid by government even before the NCT was set up and further says there is evidence of government interference in awarding of compensation to other claimants.
“Favouritism in the priority of payments to claimants amounted to unfair conduct and contrary to democratic principles. This was maladministration. High reduction of the funding to the tribune after payments were made to the politicians such that the tribunal was unable to other claimants was unfair and discriminatory conduct,” reads part of the report.
In 2006, the Office of the Ombudsman received 29 complaints surrounding the management of the tribunal and the current Ombudsman authorised the probe to certify whether the tribune was conducted in accordance with the law and whether the winding up of the tribune amounted to maladministration.
The report quotes a 2003 article by President Peter Mutharika, then an independent law consultant, titled Accountability for Political Abuses in Pre-Democratic Malawi: The Primacy of the Truth which also criticised the compensation process for favouritism and abuse by politicians.