Thursday, July 18, 2024

Double dealings blight Administration of Justice

Fresh evidence has emerged to support claims of a witch hunt against four High Court judges who were suspended in 2015 after being accused of double dipping.

The judges, Key Dingake, Mercy Thebe, Rainer Busanang and Modiri Letsididi were suspended on 28 August 2015 under Section 97 of the Botswana Constitution for alleged misconduct and bringing the judiciary into disrepute. This followed a petition signed by 12 judges, including the suspended four, calling for the impeachment of former Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo.

Former Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo used findings from a 2015 Administration of Justice internal audit to report the four judges to the police for claiming housing allowance while housed in hotel accommodation paid for by the state.

Sunday Standard has turned up information suggesting that the administration of Justice cherry picked the 2015 audit report that revealed the double dipping scandal.

Also contained in the audit report, which was swept under the carpet were finding of another incident of double dipping, in which a number of judges were illegally bought household furniture while claiming housing allowance for staying in private residences.

Responding to a questionnaire from the Sunday Standard, High Court Registrar, Michael Motlhabi explained that, “It is confirmed that a Judge is entitled to furniture worth P679, 951.00 provided that such a Judge is occupying official   residence. The amount is stipulated as per the Scale of Furniture for the year 2014. The Judges Book of Pay, Privileges and Benefits provides that if a Judge occupies a Government owned house or   house rented by   the Government as official Judicial residence, he or she is entitled to movable furniture, movable fittings and garden tools.”

Quizzed on judges who are bought furniture by the state while staying in private residences, Motlhabi stated that since the 2015 audit which red flagged the violation of the The Judges Book of Pay, Privileges and Benefits, no judge has been bought furniture by the Administration of Justice while staying in private residences.

“I deny that post the Audit Report on 2015, furniture have been bought for Judges residing at their private residence.”

It has further emerged that at the time the four judges were being raked over the coals for receiving housing allowances while staying in accommodation paid for by the state, the Administration of Justice was actually having payroll technical problems. The audit report revealed that a number of staff members, more than 100 were overpaid. Years later, the Administration of Justice is still trying to reconcile the overpayment of 108 officers which was picked by the 2015 audit. The 2018 Administration of Justice Audit reported that, “further reconciliation is on-going for 108 officers who were overpaid.”

The Law Society of Botswana, Amnesty International and SADC lawyers Association insisted at the time that the Administration of Justice had launched a with-hunt against the four judges.

“Botswana’s authorities must lift the suspension of four High Court judges unfairly targeted if the independence of the judiciary is to be preserved”, stated Amnesty International and SADC Lawyers’ Association.

The two organizations pointed out that “the suspension of the four judges over a petition against the Chief Justice constitutes serious interference with their freedom of expression and is a grave threat to judicial independence in Botswana.”

The suspension stated in part that the former Chief Justice was allegedly aggrieved by a resolution taken at a conference of judicial officer’s end of July 2015. According to the petition, “ on the morning of 1st August 2015 at breakfast, the Chief justice was sitting among some judges, Registrars and administrative staff and continued with his complaint and then accused some of the judges who were vocal about the resolution that they have been receiving housing allowance when they were not entitled to, and that he will use the issue of the housing allowance to destroy their careers,”

The Chief Justice allegedly further “threatened to publish the issue of the housing allowance in the newspapers so as to destroy careers.” In the course of the tirade, Dibotelo allegedly instructed the Registrar of the High Court Michael Motlhabi to submit the list of those judges first thing Monday morning.

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