President Ian Khama’s decision to appoint lawyers to the bench with little or no legal practice experience has raised eyebrows and questions within the legal fraternity.
Master and Registrar of the High Court Michael Motlhabi recently issued a memo announcing that President Khama “acting in accordance with the Judicial Service Commission” has appointed Boipuso Tsweneyagae and Jennifer Dube as acting judges of the High Court effective January next year.
Motlhabi announced that former Deputy Attorney General Bashi Moesi who was recently appointed as acting judge has now been confirmed. Khama also appointed Jacobus Brand as a Court of Appeal judge following the retirement of Justice Elijah Legwaila.
Khama’s ‘questionable’ appointments come at a time when the Law Society of Botswana has taken President Khama to court challenging his decision not to appoint veteran lawyer Omphemetse Motumise despite a recommendation by the JSC.
The appointments also come at a time when the country’s judiciary is in crisis with justices Dingake, Letsididi, Garekwe and Busang embroiled in a legal battle to have their suspension set aside and tribunal set up by President Ian Khama to investigate them for alleged misconduct nullified.
Insiders this week described President Khama’s decision to overlook practicing and experienced attorneys and appoint ‘desk officers’ a misguided decision. They accused the JSC of not fulfilling their responsibilities of advising the President on the appointment of judges. They said that some eligible and experienced lawyers are being sidelined for being ‘professional.’
“You can’t appoint former desk officers to the bench; people with zero experience in law practice. They have zero legal practice experience; people who do not know what judging is about,” one of the lawyers in Gaborone said this week who described the appointments as business as usual.
Another lawyer added that the latest appointments send a clear message that President Khama has no interest in addressing the waning public confidence and trust that lawyers and litigants have in the judiciary.
Khama has appointed former University of Botswana law lecturer and director of compliance and monitoring at the Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) Godfrey Radijeng as acting judge. There are even claims that the temporary replacements for the recently suspended judges were headhunted.
Reports indicate that a number of lawyers had been approached to fill up the suspended judges’ positions in acting capacities but had declined. The lawyers reportedly wanted full time appointments.
The Telegraph has turned up information indicating that Moesi had initially turned down the appointment on the basis that it was not permanent and he was a civil servant and he wanted to be appointed on a substantive capacity.
The Telegraph has also learnt that Moesi also faces conflict of interest because he sat on the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) that convened a meeting to refer the suspended judges to the police for receiving housing allowances whilst residing in government houses. At the time the Acting Attorney General as Dr Athalia Molokomme was outside the country. “It is a bit odd,” said the source.