The Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) and Botswana Network on Ethics Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) have joined the Law Society of Botswana (LSB)’s crusade against President Ian Khama’s controversial appointment of judges.
President Khama has broken with tradition and has been rejecting candidates recommended by the Judicial services Commission for appointment to the bench. Last year, President Khama rejected a candidate recommended by the JSC, Omphemetse Motumise. This was part of an emerging trend: In 2009 the president rejected Lizo Ngcongco, Gabriel Rwelingera and Gabriel Komboni who had been recommended by the JSC.
BOFEPUSU Deputy Secretary Ketlhalefile Motshegwa said this week that BOFEPUSU “seeks to associate itself with the remarks of the LSB in their concerns on the; crisis in the judiciary, appointment of judges and delay in delivery of justice.”
“LSB is correct because some of the Judges appointed seem not to have credentials in terms of experience, expertise and ability to dispense justice without pressure from the executive.
We have persistently issued statements that it is imperative to protect the independence of the judiciary and nurture separation of powers in Botswana for the sake of our democracy and rule of law,” said Motshegwa.
He said it was “petty and immature for the Government to demand that LSB should tender an apology when the LSB said what is within their right and their concerns. In fact what the LSB said resonate well with the concerns of Batswana and these are the issues that we as BOFEPUSU have raised before.”
Motshegwa added that “We herein offer our utmost solidarity to the LSB and commend them for having said it we are not indebted to Government to tender any apology.”
“We would like to inform the LSB that BOFEPUSU is available for whatever assistance needed in their struggle, and if Government continues to side-line LSB in its mandate then BOFPEUSU will be left with no choice but to enter the fray.”
BONELAs Policy and Legal Advisor Phazha Molebatsi urged the Government of Botswana to desist from any act that might even seem as an attempt to thwart the exercise of constitutional rights and send a message of intolerability of dissenting views.
“Furthermore the futile attempt by government to harm the reputation of the Law Society of Botswana by accusing the Chairman of having delivered a racist and xenophobic speech is appalling and exposes the government’s misconstruction of the Chairman’s address who on the rule of law, spoke about the need for protection of the rights of refugees and foreign professionals in Botswana,” he said.
Molebatsi said as a human rights organisation that does a considerable amount of advocacy on issues of national importance, BONELA will not be dissuaded to continue to mount constructive criticism on government policies whenever the need arises due to fear of encountering the same response currently directed at the Law Society of Botswana for exercising its right to freedom of expression and speech.
“BONELA declares its support for the Law Society of Botswana for its admirable address at the opening of the legal year, emblematic of its oversight role in the protection of human rights. We urge the civil society to continue to speak on issues that affect the nation without fear or favour, as remaining silent would be a disservice to the nation,” said Molebatsi.
Motshegwa and Molebatsi were commenting on government’s decision to issue a statement calling on Lecha to apologise following a speech he had delivered at the opening of the legal year that the LSB “has resolved to join in the various litigation affecting the judiciary and further file a challenge to the appointment of His Lordship Brand JA to the Court of Appel.”
Lecha also added that an accepted principle in the dispensation of justice is that the Presiding officers of Courts must reflect the demographics of the society that those courts serve.
“The Society however notes that this is not the case in the High Court and especially the Court of Appeal where gender, race and age are disproportionate to the demographic position of the country.
The Society believes, as does indeed a large part of stakeholders and observers, that a concerted drive to address this issue is required,” said Lecha.
Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry Defence Justice and Security Augustine Makgonatsotlhe condemned Lecha’s speech saying it was littered with racial undertones adding that his Ministry will not interact with LSB until it tendered an apology.
Makgonatsotlhe accused Lecha of having behaved unprofessionally in naming the judge in question and further, by associating issues of race to his statements.
“While the LSB is free to announce its intention to bring litigation against anyone it chooses, the manner and context in which Lecha made his remarks was inappropriate.
“In naming the Honourable Judge, who was present in court, Lecha personalised the matter unnecessarily, and displayed an insensitivity that is unbecoming of the leader of a professional association,” said Makgonatsotlhe and demanded an apology.
LSB Executive Secretary Tebogo Moipolai issued a statement last week that the society “stands by the speech delivered by its Chairman in its entirety and tenders no apology for it or any part thereof.”
“The speech is also deemed disrespectful as it mentions the intention of the Law Society to challenge the appointment of Justice Brand in his presence. The Law Society of Botswana sees no disrespect when taking into account that the challenge is not about anything personal to the Judge but against the process of appointment adopted by the Judicial Service Commission,” said Moipolai.
Moipolai said that being a multiracial, multicultural and tolerant nation does not mean as a society we should shy away from publicly dealing with issues simply because they deal with race.
“It means, in the Law Society’s view, being able to live in harmony without discriminating against each other despite your different races and cultures. The Law Society is a known proponent of adherence to the Constitution, the Rule of Law and Universal Human Rights and subscribes without reservation to this,” he said.