By Duncan Mlanjira
College of Medicine Principal, Dr. Mwapatsa Mipando is demanding K70 million as minimum compensation for unfair and unlawful termination of his contract.
A letter from his lawyers, Nicholls & Brookes — addressed the Registrar of the University of Malawi (UNIMA) dated November 20, 2020 — this compensation sum represents Mipando’s net earnings, perks and loss of use of official car he was entitled to use and computed at the prevailing cost of hiring a similar vehicle.
“This has been calculated for the period of 10 months up to when his 2-year contract would have terminated by effluxion of time,” says the letter, copied to UNIMA Vice-Chancellor; Secretary for Education; Comptroller of Statutory Corporation and DHRMD Principal Secretary.
“It also represents a mark up for the distress and anxiety caused by this abrupt, inconsiderate, unjustified, wanton and patently whimsical termination.
“Incidentally, we would like to remind you that our client is entitled to service gratuity calculated at the rate of his benefits when it was first due, i.e. 1st July 2020 as resolved by Council of the University during its 117th Ordinary Meeting.
“Our client is in the category of longest serving members which Council ranked second from retirees in terms of payment of service gratutity.
“To our Client’s knowledge, service gratuity has not been paid yet due to financial constraints on the part of the University. To be clear, it is legitimately expected that at the time of payment, our client’s service gratutity will be computed at the higher rate of earnings that he was entitled to had the gratuity been paid in July 2020.
“Please note that we have instructions to take necessary lawful steps to recover the compensation should you not oblige.”
The letter of termination of Mipando’s contract is reported to have been written on November 6, 2020 and Mipando is basing his lawsuit that he was appointed as COM Principal on a 4-year contract effective 3rd August 2015.
And on August 13, 2019 — following the Pro Vice-Chancellor’s adivice during a face-to-face discussion which he had with him on 31st July 2019 — Mipando wrote the UNIMA Registrar notifying of the expiry of his contract and expressing interest to continue serving during the still on-going delinking of UNIMA.
“This was further in keeping with the 111th UNIMA Ordinary Council Meeting’s resolution that pending completion of delinking, all senior management of the Colleges should be offered 2-year contracts, subject to automatic termination if delinking occurs earlier.
“This resolution was followed through by your letter dated 10th July 2018 in which you directed that 2 years contracts should be offered to those whose contract would be expiring.
“In keeping with that resolution, the College of Medicine’s Finance Officer and the Vice Principal, were offered a 2-year contracts.”
Mipando further contend that it was by the same token that the contracts for the Polytechnic Principal was renewed in 2018 and that of Chancellor College was renewed also in 2018 and further renewed in 2020 when they expired.
But when Mipando’s contract expired and engaged the UNIMA Registrar to have it renewed, it was not officially done yet the University, and its Council continued to engage him him as Principal despite constant reminders.
“When he noted it was taking time, he reminded the then chairman of Council who assured him at a graduation ceremony in Zomba on 8th November 2019 that he had been instructed to formally offer him a 2-year contract in line with the 111th UNIMA Council resolution.
“You did not comply. Meanwhile, Council continued to involve our client as Principal without any qualms at any point for over one year.
“We hold that our client’s contract had been tacitly renewed for 2 years, ending August 2021 unless delinking is completed earlier. As at the time of termination — 6 November 2020, delinking has not been completed and there is no definitive time when it will be completed.”
Mipando further argue that as a member of Council, he is not aware of any Council meeting which resolved to terminate his contract — however, he is aware that the current Council chairman (Professor Jack Wirima) and the Pro-Vice Chancellor of UNIMA, in his capacity as chairman of the Appointments and Disciplinary Committee of the Council, met with the now acting Principal at the Wirima’s Mwaiwathu Hospital prior to his appointment.
“On our reading of the applicable law, this ‘Mwaiwathu affair’ hardly passes for a Council meeting that would resolve to terminate our client’s contract prematurely.
“Furthermore, whereas your letter of 6th November 2020 indicated that our client should use the rest of the month for hand-overs, on 18 November 2020 the Registrar for College of Medicine advised that our client shall revert to his salary and benefits as before his appointment as Principal from the 10th November 2020.
“This is clearly abrupt and disregards any consideration of notice as a fair labour practice. The termination of our client’s contract is spiteful, harsh, inconsiderate, and in any event unconnected to any lawful reasons that would warrant it,” says the letters signed by Nicholls & Brookes lawyer Bright Theu.