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Praying for payment - Pensioner waiting for $300,000 payout despite $172m paid to persons wronged by State agents

Published:Friday | February 10, 2017 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones
Marlene Malahoo Forte

Eighty-three-year-old Winston Armstrong has been waiting for more than two years to collect $300,000 he is owed by the State after a police vehicle hit his motor car.

"I need the money to help me, as I am a pensioner. Thankfully, I didn't suffer any injuries, as maybe I would have died due to lack of money to help me to survive," Armstrong told The Sunday Gleaner last week.

But there is nothing particularly unique about the way the State is treating this pensioner. He is among almost 200 Jamaicans who are owed more than $385 million in compensation for incidents where agents of the State have somehow wronged them.

According to the official numbers released by Solicitor General Nicole Foster-Pusey, at the end of last year 172 persons were awaiting payment for incidents where the matter of liability has been settled.

Foster-Pusey said the $385.5 million is owed for matters which have been completed and which the Attorney General's Department has written to the Ministry of Justice requesting that payment be made. This does not include interest on judgment debts and date back to 2015.

"The various judgment debts outstanding are for various claims, including false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and personal-injury claims, payment due for court costs and mediation costs; among other things," said Foster-Pusey in an emailed response to questions from The Sunday Gleaner.


Progress made


Foster-Pusey noted that the $385.5 million reflects some progress in paying persons owed compensation by the State, as in her presentation in the Sectoral Debate last year, Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte noted that the approximate amount due for payment then was just over $512 million.

"As a result, a special submission was made to, and considered by, Cabinet on the need for additional funds to settle government liability," said Foster-Pusey.

"We are pleased to inform you that we have been recently informed that the request was favourably considered and an additional $81.427 million was approved in the Supplementary Budget to assist in addressing the outstanding payments.

"There has, therefore, been considerable improvement since July 2016, and this will be enhanced by the additional funds recently approved. The Chambers has also requested an increase in the budgetary allocation for this area of liability for the budget year 2017-2018," added Foster-Pusey.

Last year, Malahoo Forte used her presentation in the Sectoral Debate to urge agents of the State to be more careful, as she argued that Government could not afford to pay anymore for the acts or omissions of its servants.

According to Malahoo Forte, an analysis of the settlements and judgment debts at the time showed that approximately 46 per cent arose from police actions.

These included claims of false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, assault and battery, and claims for constitutional redress.


Medical negligence concerns


Another 34 per cent of settlements and judgement debts related to accident and personal-injury claims, while medical negligence was an area of special concern.

The attorney general noted that despite claims for medical negligence being only six per cent of the matters referred to the Ministry of Justice for payment at the time, these were usually large sums and often involved United States dollar elements.

In the case of Armstrong, he is looking to recover close to $300,000 after his car was hit by a police vehicle on January 29, 2015.

According to Armstrong, the collision occurred as a police car coming out of a side road ran into his. In his attempt to avoid the impact he veered, hitting another car which his insurance paid to fix.

However, with his car not comprehensively insured he had to find close to $300,000 to do the repairs.

"I am affected by the Government not insuring their vehicles and we, as people of this country, if we don't insure ours they are taken off the road," said Armstrong.