Unless you live along the eastern seaboard, you may have missed a significant case unfolding there: Westwood insurance brokers against eThekwini municipality. With public attention rightly focused on the mega-criminals stealing billions from SA we may not be thinking as much about the ordinary, bad civil servants, the corrupt or indolent, who defy accountability and ignore the courts. But the judiciary has been working on the problem, refining the idea that officials may, where appropriate, be penalised with an order to pay damages or legal costs out of their own pockets. Various conditions must first be met. For example, the officials must be given an opportunity to say why they should not be punished in this way. But still, even in the case of disgraced social development minister Bathabile Dlamini, the courts have threatened, rather than acted. In the Westwood case, however, judge Dhaya Pillay has actually ordered certain officials to pay. They were involved in a completely inexp...

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