Monday, August 10, 2020

JSC opens fresh investigation against “housing allowance” judges

The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) is reported to be on a witch hunt against the four judges who were suspended a few years ago and later reinstated following a lengthy court battle.

The four judges Modiri Letsididi, Mercy Garekwe, Ranier Busang and a Key Dingake who has since resigned from the Botswana bench were in 2015 suspended in what was widely believed to be punishment for signing a petition along with eight other judges calling for the impeachment of former Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo.

Documents passed to the Sunday Standard reveal that the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) last week opened a fresh investigation against the four judges and an official from the Attorney generals Chambers.

The JSC has appointed Neil Armstrong, an attorney-at-law “to look closely into how taxation” in the case between the four judges and the state was processed.

According to a document passed to the Sunday Standard, “Mr Armstrong is expected to come up with a report of his findings, at the end of this exercise. The above exercise entails interviewing some of the officers who were involved in the taxation.”

The latest investigation is expected to deepen the alleged division in the Botswana bench between the four judges and their colleagues.

A number of watchdog institutions, among them Amnesty International and The Botswana Law Society believe the four judges were victimised for calling for the impeachment of former Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo.

“A petition against a supervisor or employer is a right protected by the constitution, and that is the case in every workplace. It is not an offense that attracts punishment. A chief justice is a first among equals who should be equipped with instruments for proper corporate governance dictates. This matter should have been handled differently without bringing the judiciary into disrepute as it has done,” charged the then Chairman of the Law Society of Botswana, Kgalalelo Monthe.

Monthe further stated that the selective treatment of the judges, despite that they were accused of the same crime with others, will always raise eyebrows. He said overpayment happens all over the world but there are always accounting systems to address that. It can never be right that the judges were reported to the police for a minor administrative lapse, and later suspended when they complained about unfair treatment, he said. 

“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”, said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for Southern Africa.

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