Thursday, October 22, 2020

A question of double standards

Desperate to create distinction between two groups of judges who were paid housing allowance against what the law prescribes, the Department of the Administration of Justice is said to have attempted to redefine established policy and practice.

With President Ian Khama having suspended four judges (Justices Dr. Key Dingake, Modiri Letsididi, Mercy Garekwe and Rainer Busang) for receiving such allowance while staying in government houses, it has emerged that another group of judges also drew the same double benefit.

Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo having stated in the past that “no one is above the law”, the most natural thing that should happen is to subject any other judge to the process through which the four judges were suspended. Before the suspension, Dibotelo reported the judges to the police.

Sunday Standard learns that AoJ has written to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development to give an interpretation of finance law that the latter (which is the custodian of state funds) is unfamiliar with. In terms of the policies developed from such law, there is no such thing as “inconvenience allowance” but AoJ is now making the case that judges in the second group were paid housing allowance as recompense for the inconvenience of staying in a hotel.

Apparently, no one has ever been paid this sort of allowance because it has never been known to exist. The ministry is said to have refused to play along because there is no provision for inconvenience allowance.

It is unclear what will happen in the future but if the ministry accepts that civil servants can be paid housing allowance for staying in a hotel, that would mean that circumstances under which the second group of judges received housing allowance are different from those of the four suspended judges.

To be precise, it would mean that there is no double standard in taking disciplinary action against one group of people and none against the other. The ministry’s acquiescence could open a Pandora’s Box because other civil servants who stay in hotels while on duty would also be eligible for inconvenience allowance.

The double standard that has come to define this matter has largely been attributed to a plot to make it impossible for Justice Dingake to become Chief Justice next year when Dibotelo reaches retirement age.

 He is the second most senior judge after Dibotelo and the practice since independence in 1966 has been for the most senior judge to become Chief Justice. Dingake, who is the younger brother of Michael Dingake, (a veteran opposition figure who was imprisoned with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island) is reportedly seen as anti-government. 

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