Sunday, November 27, 2022

Magistrates to go on nationwide strike

Magistrates from all over the country have resolved to go on a one day strike next month, unless government implements a long outstanding decision to adjust their salaries and conditions of service in line with the proposals made to the Judicial Services Commission a few years ago.

Sunday Standard can confirm that Magistrates have been holding meetings to strategise on how to get their long standing demands met.

Owing to the hardships that the economy of Botswana went through starting in 2008, Cabinet has not been able to implement a list of long submitted recommendations that were meant to improve the conditions of service for magistrates.

Principal Magistrates want their work conditions to compare with those of High Court Judges.
They argue that their work load and its scope is no longer different from that which is expected of High Court Judges.

Currently entry level High Court Judges earn a take home sum of between P60 000 and P70 000, while the most senior magistrate (Regional) earns below P30 000.

The huge disparity between the two arms is a source of contention that is likely to see Botswana’s judicial system draw to a halt and eventually go on its knees, unless Government introduces remedial action.

In 2009, following a White Paper on Magistrates Salaries, the then Chief Justice, Julian Nganunu, instructed Lot Moroka (now High Court Judge) and Barnabas Nyamadzabo to give effect to a Government White Paper on the Magistrates’ conditions of service.

Other than salaries, Moroka and Nyamadzabo requested the Chief Justice to review the security conditions of magistrates.

The duo came to the conclusion that the security of Magistrates required “urgent attention”.

“The proposed basic salary for Magistrates must start with the scale of F1, which should be attached to the most senior magistrate cadre. This is because there is need to align salaries of magistrates with those of the judges in order to create the necessary link and motivate a uniform structure for the judiciary.”

As part of their recommendations, which were later to be seconded by a Human Resources Consultancy, Tsa Badiri, they also recommended the de-linking of magistrates’ salary structure from the civil service.

When contacted to say just how far the Administration of Justice has gone in implementing those recommendations, the Registrar of the High Court, Godfrey Nthomiwa, said the ball is now in the court of cabinet.

Nthomiwa is also the Secretary of the Judicial Service Commission, which manages the appointment of Judges and Magistrates.

“The last Salaries Review Commission recommended that a study be carried out to align the conditions of service of magistrates to those of judges if possible,” said Nthomiwa. “Last February, the new Chief Justice, Maruping Dibotelo, appointed a consultancy ÔÇô Tsa Badiri Consultancy ÔÇô to look into that recommendation. The consultancy did that and submitted its report in June 2010 and after studying its recommendations, Justice Dibotelo submitted his recommendations to government for consideration. We are currently awaiting government response. The consultancy also covered the area of security for the magistrates.”

Sunday Standard can confirm that Tsa Badiri study upheld a substantial amount of recommendations earlier made by Moroka and Nyamadzabo.

According to Moroka and Nyamadzabo, one of the biggest weaknesses of the low salary structure for magistrates has been that the job is unattractive for experienced lawyers.

As a result the Department of Administration of Justice has found itself having to recruit as magistrate graduates who are fresh from the university.

“The direct entry of university graduates does not assist the organization, especially in respect of jurisdiction and disposal of cases.”

The Judicial Service Commission was also asked to upgrade the salaries of magistrates and bring them to par with the judiciary because of similarities in the scope of the two’s duties.

The recommendations, which have since become a rallying cry for magistrates, argue that the increase in the civil jurisdiction of the magistrates court following the Magistrates Court Amendment Act has led to the transference of a large number of civil cases from the High Court to the Magistrates court without corresponding adjustments to the salaries and conditions of service for the magistracy.

“Similarly, Magistrates’ courts are increasingly becoming arenas of resolution of complex criminal cases. There is a need for commensurate adjustment in magistrate conditions of service.”
Among the allowances proposed are: housing, security, utilities, robbing, private practice, entertainment, responsibility, motor vehicle and pension.

They demand a housing allowance of P5 000 or higher.

“In places where there is accommodation offered we recommend a 100% subsidy.”

While Government has in some instances been using pool houses to accommodate magistrates, the practice has been found to be defective because the Administration of Justice is unable to adapt such houses to suit and meet the security needs of Magistrates.

“The disparity in processing of expatriates vis-├á-vis local magistrates’ accommodation is disruptive to their work; expatriates readily find accommodation whilst local magistrates struggle as a result of policies at the Department of Housing. The renting of private houses by magistrates exposes them to compromising situations.”

Drawing from the Aguda Presidential Commission, which was appointed in 1997, magistrates point out that they often have to contend with stress caused by the risk of physical harm due to absence of adequate security at work and at home.

“We therefore submit that in addition to the monitored security alarms, the government should provide security guards to protect magistrates at the office and at their homes.”

Magistrates say, over and above dispensing of their judicial functions, magistrates, especially those that are Heads of Stations, find themselves also doubling as administrators.

“In addition to the judicial functions of magistrates heading stations, they are also placed in charge of substantial government finances sub-warranted to them in the form of votes under various categories. These additional responsibilities place an extra burden on magistrates heading stations and justify the payment of responsibility allowance as an incentive.”

For this, magistrates demand 15 percent of basic salary as responsibility allowance.

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