The Law Society of Botswana has renewed its previous position of calling for Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo to resign of face impeachment.
The Law Society has gone further and said there is growing evidence that the role of the Chief Justice in the suspension of four judges for receiving housing allowances that were not due to them was actuated by malice.
The four suspended judges are Key Dingake, Rainer Busang, Mercy Gaerekwe and Modiri Letsididi.
It further adds that there is a groundswell of evidence suggesting bias, uneven and selective treatment against the four suspended judges.
The renewed position of the Law Society follows a confidential report that shows that the suspended judges were not the only ones to receive the money into their accounts.
In a statement seen by the Sunday Standard the Chairman of the Law Society, Lawrence Lecha, says the behavior of the Chief Justice and that of the Judicial Service Commission has dragged the Judiciary in the mud, thereby eroding public confidence, the independence and integrity of the judicial system.
When it was found that the four judges had received housing allowances that were not due to them, the Chief Justice promptly reported the matter to the police.
According to the Law Society of Botswana, the surfacing of the Final Internal Audit Report shows that three other judges (other than the four currently on suspension) had also previously been erroneously paid the housing allowance and some amounts remain unpaid to date.
The organisation says it is surprising that the same treatment has not been meted to the other judges who are in the same category as the suspended ones.
“The Final Audit Report reveals three more judges to have received housing allowance and yet the JSC (Judicial service Commission) and the CJ (Chief Justice) have not reported such Judges to the police with the same haste and speed with which the four suspended judges were reported to the police and dealt with,’ says the Law Society.
Last week this newspaper ran a series of stories based on a confidential Final Audit Report (dated May 2016) for the consumption of Registrar and Master of the High Court.
In it, it is apparent that the suspended judges were not the only ones that had received housing allowances that were not due to them. Some Judges that received the same remain on duty.
“The Final Audit Report which has now surfaced shows that three other Judges (other than the four currently on suspension) had also previously been erroneously paid the Housing allowance and some amounts remain unpaid to date. No action, as firm and robust or otherwise, as that meted to the other Judges has been taken against these Judges.
It is this variance in treatment of the Judges that is at the core of Law Society’s gripe against the Judicial Service Commission and the Chief Justice.
“The Law Society calls upon the JSC and the CJ to provide an explanation for not taking any steps since May 2016 when the Final Audit Report was released,” says the Society’s Lecha.
Among other things the report states that Justice Stephen Gaongalelwe, who now sits on the Court of Appeal, was overpaid housing allowance from February 2004 to March 2005 and from August 2007 to March 2008.
Justice Gaongalelwe wrote to the Administration of Justice on April 10, 2008 requesting that his allowance overpayments be recovered from his salary effective May 2008.
According to the report, “deductions of P1 000 per month were made from May 2008 to September 2011. The last deduction of P304.00 was made in October 2011. Although the last deduction was made in October, the overpayment was not fully recovered,” says the audit report.
Records indicate that as May 2016 Justice Gaongalelwe still owed P63 140.00.
One of the suspended Judges, Key Dingake, had also twice written to administration to have overpayments to him deducted. Nothing was done, but he was in the end suspended.
Additionally the audit found that a High Court Judge, Terrence Rannowane who is not among the suspended lot, was overpaid by a margin of P47 008.95.
The Law Society says while it has observed that the Audit Report makes some recommendations, “none of the recommendations include the actions taken by the CJ against the four judges thus far”.
The Law Society says that given the turn of events there is also evidence that the audit was commissioned to present cover for outcomes that the CJ had already determined.
This, the Law Society says is because “the CJ could commission an audit and proceed to act (against the suspended judges) before the findings of the audit are known and in fact in contradiction of the aforesaid audit recommendations”.
“This lays credence to the Society’s position as articulated in the past that the actions of the CJ against the four judges were selective, differential, biased and likely actuated by malice or other improper motives.”