Sunday, October 17, 2021

Independence of judiciary threatened by funding – Dibotelo

Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo has warned that the independence of Botswana’s judiciary cannot be properly secured because of the way it is funded by the government.

During his welcome remarks at the Judicial Conference in Palapye last week, Justice Dibotelo said during a stake holder conference held in 2016, it was recognized that the budget allocation to the judiciary was inadequate which in turn hampered the judiciary’s financial and institutional independence. “We have in the past as we continue to do, done our very best with the little made available to us to deliver quality justice to the inhabitants of our country. However the truth is that even with our greatest efforts at re-engineering our process and the incremental use of technology, the shortage of human and financial resources continue to cripple our best plans”, said Justice Dibotelo.

He said the 2016 “conference therefore resolved that the government should amend the necessary legislative frame work to ensure that a specified percentage of the national budget was allocated to the Judiciary. The conference further resolved that key stakeholders to the judiciary must adequately be resourced to enhance effective justice delivery,” he said.

“We look forward to the government acceptance of the modest request that a specified percentage of the national budget be allocated to the judiciary,” he emphasized. The Chief Justice is lobbying for legislative reform that would ring fence funds for the judiciary to ensure independence from the executive.

Currently, spending on Botswana’s judiciary is controlled by the executive which undermines the principle of judicial independence because it creates a financial dependence of the judiciary on the executive. Champions of judicial independence speak of two methods of corruption of the judiciary: the state (through budget planning and privileges) being the most dangerous, and private.

The Chief Justice went to great lengths to express concern over under resourcing of the judiciary. “I have pronounced publicly my deep seated conviction to devote what remains of my tenure as Chief Justice to advocating and ensuring that the funding of the judiciary and its stakeholders takes centre stage,” he said.

Dibotelo said equipment such as tents, boots and special clothing for those who man the special stock theft courts need to be purchased and funds for that purpose are urgently required. He said the same applies to the replacement of old vehicles for Judges. The Chief Justice also complained about the shortage of registry clerks both at the Magistrate Courts and High Court as it adversely affects the performance of the judiciary.

On a positive note he said the Small Claims Court which operate in Gaborone and Francistown have proved to be a highly successful initiative. He said the success of these courts is evidenced by the high volume of registered cases and the efficient disposal rates. He said litigants continue to commend the Administration of Justice on the simplified court process and the speed and efficiency of these courts. He also said as a result of its success, people come from faraway places to access the small claims courts in Gaborone and Francistown.

“Whilst we want to roll out the small claims courts to other areas around the country, we are constrained by the lack of human and financial resources which in turn cripples our efforts to provide access to justice to the people of this country,” he added.

Chief Justice Dibotelo said in places such as Kang, Ghanzi, Nata, Bobonong and Serowe, Magistrates have to share one court room and this has impacted negatively on the performance of the courts. He said the time has come to unfreeze projects for the construction of Magistrate Courts in places like Ghanzi and Serowe. He said funds must be made available by the government to build court facilities in these and other areas.

“We have in the past as we continue to do, done our very best with the little made available to us to deliver quality justice to the inhabitants of our country. However the truth is that even with our greatest efforts at re-engineering our process and the incremental use of technology, the shortage of human and financial resources continue to cripple our best plans. These reforms still need people to drive them,” Dibotelo said.

He revealed that Corruption Court continues to be hindered by the fact that corruption cases by their very nature tend to have many interlocutory applications often resulting in a painstakingly slow disposal rate of its cases.  The Chief Justice said an audit of each corruption case is underway to determine the status and hopefully move the cases forward in collaboration with the key stakeholders. On a different note he said the Judiciary is committed to working with and supporting the Law Society of Botswana which is a very important partner in driving reforms they have put in place as well as identifying and finding solutions arising out of such reforms.

“Our door is always open to the society to discuss issues of mutual benefit to all of us including the possible ways to deal with and resolve the backlog of the many complaints by members of the public against members of the Law Society by applying the principles of Judicial Case Management to fast track the resolution of such complaints,” he said.

He however lauded the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Shaw Kgathi for finally heeding the calls of the judiciary to consider issues of resources for the judiciary and its key stakeholders. He said during a stake holder conference held in 2016, it was recognized that the budget allocation to the judiciary was inadequate which in turn hampered the judiciary’s financial and institutional independence.

Among other important issues he said the stakeholders conference resolved that there should be an increase in manpower in the entire justice system, including inter alia, the urgent recognition of the Court of Appeal as a separate court with its own staff, and the speeding of the takeover of the prosecutorial service from the police, Directorate of Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) by the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

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