Sunday, June 23, 2024

Attorney-turned-judge has courted controversy since 1980

When his government became a round-the-clock blunders factory, President Festus Mogae got as gravely concerned as to appoint a South African judge called Joshua Khumalo to investigate the source of these blunders. Among the blunders was a botched-up referendum being superintended by the Independent Electoral Commission that had to be postponed as well as failure to issue a writ of elections ahead of a general election. At first, the secretary to the Khumalo Commission was Sidney Pilane who, then as now, was a high-profile lawyer, claiming scalp after scalp at both the High Court and Court of Appeal. Pilane’s exit thrust a relatively unknown lawyer into the spotlight – Lakvinder Singh Walia.

It is unclear how much influence Walia, as the point man on Botswana law, had on the controversial recommendations that Khumalo would ultimately make in his report. Mogae had mandated the South African judge to “identify, by name the person or persons who are culpable or share in the culpability of the acts, errors and omissions” that led to the postponement of the referendum. The senior officials identified by name were Attorney General Phandu Skelemani and the IEC Secretary, Gabriel Seeletso. However, Skelemani protested this finding and went to the High Court to clear his name. He wanted the government to pay his legal fees and then began an ugly legal tussle between him and Mogae that ended with an out-of-court settlement.

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