Saturday, December 3, 2022

Govt shuts out rural poor from legal aid

Hundreds of Botswana in rural areas who were hoping to benefit from the government’s legal aid project have been left in the lurch because they are not covered by the same scheme, it has been revealed.

The provision of free legal service was introduced in 2011 to assist Batswana who are unable to afford steep legal fees.

Human rights activist welcomed the move then saying its availability would make a huge difference to people’s lives and describing it as a thin line between prison and freedom.

But the project faces serious challenges because of the funding guidelines. Ditswanelo, the Centre for Human Rights, has since expressed displeasure at the funding guidelines and lack of knowledge about the scheme by some Batswana.

According to minutes of a meeting held in December last year and attended by representatives from the EU, French and German Embassies to update donors about the current human rights issues on which they are engaged in, the human rights organisation says through the project, the centre received funds from the government to assist Batswana who cannot afford legal fees.

Ditswanelo Director, Alice Mogwe, stated that the project is facing several challenges, the main one being that most of their clients are not in Gaborone or Francistown but the funding guidelines do not allow them to assist people outside the two towns.

She also stated that she intends to raise her concern with the Attorney General or the Director of Public Prosecutions. The project functions within the auspices of the Attorney General’s (AG) chambers.

Some of the Non Governmental Organisations that benefitted from legal aid funds are BONELA, Emang Basadi, and Women Against Rape, which the Legal Aid office funds to the tune of P37, 500 per month to handle the cases.

Last year, the growth of its budget rose from P7m to the current P10m from the government of Botswana. The United Nations Development Fund gives another P1.5m.

Speaking in an interview, BONELA Director, Uyapo Ndadi, said they did not face challenges that are being faced by Ditswanelo because the latter’s scope is broad.

“Our scope is focused and we are not affected because we have agreed on a scope; we are not complaining. Obviously the plan is not to deny the legal aid programme those who need it. It is not restricted to the few, as long as you are a Motswana and eligible for it you are supposed to benefit from it,” he said.

Attorney General’s Public Relations Office, Renga Sesinyi, had not responded to Sunday Standard queries at the time of going to press.

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