Erickson Mvududu’s ARDA claim whittled down
EMBATTLED Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA) has won a case in which its former chief executive officer (CEO), Erickson Mvududu, sued for a hefty award after the Supreme Court ruled that the former CEO’s inflated claim could not be substantiated.
Mvududu was claiming more than US$700 000 for unlawful dismissal, but will now be entitled to about $80 000 after he was dismissed from the now moribund parastatal in 2009.
Justice Bharatkumar Patel, sitting with colleagues, Justices Luke Malaba and Elizabeth Gwaunza as the Supreme Court, agreed to throw out Mvududu’s case in which he was claiming more than US$700 000 in damages arising from unlawful dismissal from ARDA where he served as both CEO and general manager for just over a year between 2008 and 2009.
In his ruling, Justice Patel refused to accept Mvududu’s claim that his monthly salary was somewhere in the region of US$5 000 as the only documentary evidence adduced before the courts indicated that he was earning only US$1 009 per month.
It was on the basis of this salary that the court ruled that Mvududu should be paid nearly US$20 000 in back pay and about US$60 000 as compensation for loss of employment.
After Mvududu was sacked from ARDA in 2009, he took his case to an arbitrator who awarded him around US$140 000, of which nearly US$20 000 was for back pay and about US$60 000 for damages arising from loss of employment based on his monthly salary of US$1 009. The arbitrator went on to award Mvududu another US$60 000 as punitive damages against ARDA for its refusal to re-instate him without giving any valid reasons as required by labour laws.
Unhappy with the award, Mvududu, who claimed that his actual monthly salary at ARDA was about US$5 000 instead of just over US$1 000, took his matter to the Labour Court where he could not produce any documentary evidence to support his salary claim. The Labour Court added to his miseries by striking off the US$60 000 he had been awarded by the arbitrator in punitive awards, leaving him with only just over US$80 000.
This resulted in Mvududu approaching the Supreme Court, which ruled that his salary was actually US$1 032,54, instead of US$1 009 he had been paid, a difference of only US$23.
If Mvududu had won his case based on his US$5 000 salary claim, he would have pocketed about US$700 000.
The Supreme Court has since made a landmark ruling to the effect that benefits and other featherbeddings are only paid to an employee at the pleasure of the employer.
“What was being negotiated without prejudice by the parties was not the appellant’s reinstatement, but his back-pay and benefits and the quantum of damages payable in lieu of reinstatement. The appellant only resuscitated the question of reinstatement over three months later when the negotiations between the parties failed to produce any definitive agreement,” Justice Patel ruled on the point in which Mvududu appeared to be shifting the goal posts.
“Finally, there is the ground that was quite correctly relied upon by the court a quo (Labour Court) for reversing the arbitrator’s award of punitive damages that is, the absence of any evidence in computing those damages in the sum of US$60 540 equivalent to 60 months salary. The arbitrator appears to have plucked this figure from the air without relating to any evidence adduced before him to substantiate the appellant’s claim.
“Although it is trite that damages need not be quantified with mathematical precision, there must be some evidentiary basis for calculating damages, even if they be punitive damages.”
In August 2009, the Financial Gazette reported that Mvududu’s dismissal from ARDA was a result of his spirited resistance to a deal that meant to give business tycoon, Billy Rautenbach’s investment firm, Rating Investments, a controlling 60 percent stake in the Middle Sabi and Chisumbanje Sugar Estates.
Mvududu had argued that the development of Middle Sabi and Chisumbanje should follow a model different from that proposed by Rautenbach and his colleagues. Mvududu strongly felt that the Rating deal had too many shortcomings that would prejudice ARDA and that the deal was tantamount to handing over a family treasure to the joint venture, in which ARDA was playing second fiddle, at a huge cost.
Despite Mvududu’s resistance, which had the backing of expert advice, political pressure was allegedly brought to bear on ARDA resulting in the deal sailing through.
Mvududu’s wife, Abigail, nee Tembo, last year won a similar unfair dismissal case against her former employer, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), which resulted in the corporation’s 12 vehicles and other movable equipment being attached by the Sheriff to satisfy the US$186 000 judgment debt.
The seizure and subsequent auctioning of ZBC’s property was only stopped after a deal in which the public broadcaster agreed to pay Abigail US$5 000 every month until the full amount was settled.
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