Q&A – 9 September 2019

Suing hospital for charging for oxygen

My brother was in a hospital in Dar where they had to give him oxygen and charged him over TZS 1M for the oxygen. From what I know oxygen is free, we breath it every day and it is supplied by God. This is a money-making scheme of the hospital. Whilst I consented for oxygen to be given, now that my brother is well, I intend to sue the hospital for taking advantage of my brother. These hospitals intend to reap us off by overcharging us and I want this to be a lesson to hospitals. Please guide me on next steps.
HG, Dar

We are happy to learn that your brother is safe and out of hospital.

Not being medical professionals, we consulted some of our Dr friends who told us that the oxygen concentration that your brother likely got was higher than the normal oxygen that you and us normally breath from the air. The oxygen in the air is about 21% whereas the oxygen he likely got was over 60%, 300% higher than the normal oxygen. It is this additional concentrated oxygen that likely saved your brother from dying and you should, perhaps, be thankful to the hospital for doing its job well. If a doctor thinks, in his opinion, that additional concentration of oxygen will assist the patient, he will administer it without thinking twice. It is better to be cautious and save a life then to be stingy and lose a patient because of a wrong decision.

Of course, if the hospital overused oxygen then you might have a cause of action, but it seems likelier than not that the oxygen was important to save your brother’s life and it seems to have helped. Your lawyers can guide you further but this is not an easy case.

Oxygen is indeed supplied by God, but the supply by God does not exceed the 21% and the Dr might have lost your brother if he had not intervened.

Pleading guilty to an Economic offence

My son and his company are charged with the offence of occasioning loss to the Government. It is claimed that his company has been evading taxes for five years and he has been in remand prison since November 2015. He wants to plead guilty and is ready to pay a fine if given that option. I have read the penalty section in the Economic and Organised Crime Control Act, section 60(2) but I don’t see if it gives an option to pay a fine. Can he be given the option to pay a fine if pleads guilty?
PE, Mwanza

Section 60(2) of the Economic and Organised Crime Control Act (EOCCA) was amended by Act No 3 of 2016 which came into force on 8 July, 2016. Now the minimum sentence for any economic offence is twenty years imprisonment irrespective of the nature and gravity of the crime committed, although this can is still debateable. However, under section 73 of the Interpretation of Laws Act and Article 13(6)(d) of the Constitution of Tanzania, the Court cannot impose on your son a penalty that is higher than the one in place when he committed the crime charged.

Prior to 8 July, 2016 section 60(2) of the EOCCA did not provide the minimum custodial sentence for an economic offence. It only provided the maximum which was 15 years imprisonment. Since the penalty for the offence he is charged with at the discretion of the Court, the Court can impose on him any sentence including a fine, conditional or absolute discharge as it thinks fit.

In the case of Tabu Fikwa v R [1988] TLR 48 the HC, Samatta, J held that the use of words “shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment” in the penalty provisions, if properly construed, gives discretion to the Court to impose an option of a fine. This is a forgotten case and the Courts need to be reminded of it. The Court in this case said that save where the nature of the offence and circumstances of its commission call for a custodial sentence or where the Court has no discretion in the matter because the offence attracts a mandatory sentence of imprisonment, the Court should seriously consider alternative punishment before sending an offender to prison, especially if he is a first offender.

The crucial question that arises here is what amount of fine the Court can impose under section 60(2) of the EOCCA which does not expressly give the option of a fine. The answer is the Court can convert the prison term prescribed under section 60(2) of the EOCCA into a fine by using section 71(3)(d) of the Interpretation of Laws Act against a corporate offender and section 29(a) of the Penal Code against individual offenders. Under section 29(a) of the Penal Code there is no minimum or maximum limit of fine to be imposed by the Court but the fine imposed should not be excessive. Under section 71(3)(d) of the Interpretation of Laws Act, the maximum fine the Court can impose on a corporate offender is TZS 10M if the custodial sentence prescribed by the law exceeds a 3 year term of jail like the one provided under section 60(2) of the EOCCA.

Apart from the fine or conditional or absolute order which the Court may give under section 60(2) of the EOCCA, the Court has to give mandatory order for the accused to make good the actual tax evaded without interest or penalty. Compensation under paragraph 10(4) of the First Schedule to the EOCCA covers only the actual loss. However, the Court has a discretion to order the compensation of the actual loss incurred to be paid in instalments at such times and in such amount as the Court may think fit. This is provided under section 330(3) (4), 348(1) and 349 of the CPA.

Reading the provisions of law above, your son can consider pleading guilty and being released. Might be the most practical solution in the circumstances. However your lawyers can guide further.