Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Magistrates’ mass resignations spark judicial crisis

Remand prisoners who are awaiting trial are languishing in prison and Batswana have to wait long periods for justice because a growing number of citizen magistrates are abandoning cases midway and handing in their resignations in frustration in what is believed to be a well orchestrated plan by the Administration of Justice to flush out Batswana magistrates and replace them with expatriates.

According to a petition presented by citizen magistrates to the Judicial Services Commission on Thursday, “the case of Mr. T. D Sebola (Magistrate Grade 11, Gaborone) provides a good example. The Magistrate was employed as Grade 11 in 2004. In 2005 his colleague and former class mate possessing the same experience and qualification, Mr. M Dipate was appointed as Magistrate Grade 1, a grade above Mr. Sebola. Magistrate Sebola raised this concern with the Registrar and Master of the High Court Mr. Godfrey Nthomiwa who acknowledged the manifest unfairness and promised to rectify it. The Registrar was publicly made aware of Mr. Sebola’s problem at a magistrate meeting held in Lobatse following the legal opening in February 2005. Nothing was done for over a year. This caused chronic frustration for the magistrate who resigned and joined the Attorney General Chambers. To this day, thirty-seven (37) of his cases are still pending with no likelihood that he will return to complete them given his displeasure.”

Similarly, Magistrate Grade 11 Segametsi Radibe (Gaborone) was placed in a similar position as Magistrate Sebola. “Despite her admirable hard work and high output and exemplary conduct, her genuine concern of being put at a lower grade than her classmates was ignored. She has since resigned and is with the Botswana Unified Revenue Services,” states the petition.

In another case, Magistrate Manyepeza Grade 11 (Selibe Phikwe) received no mentoring. States the petition by magistrates: “He had upon employment never been exposed to any PBRA training. To his dismay his performance evaluation was done according to PBRS percepts. He was expected to compile annual performance plans and sign performance contract without prior training as to their usefulness in his job. He was made to feel unwanted. His concerns were contemptuously dismissed. He resigned heart-broken. Over and above that, this magistrate was made to suffer the same fate as Sebola and Radibe. This further deepened his despair. All three have since been replaced with expatriates who were quickly put at higher grades.”

The petition further states that “the insensitive treatment of local magistrates heightened with the case of the then Senior Magistrate Kenneilwe Lekoba (Mahalapye 2002). The magistrate was awarded a fully paid scholarship to study for LMM in International Legal Studies by Georgetown University in Washington DC in the USA by the Kellogg Foundation. She applied for unpaid leave, which was unfairly refused. She resigned and took the scholarship.”

Chief Magistrate, Tshegofatso Mogomomotsi, recently resigned and joined the University of Botswana after being consistently overlooked for appointment into the assistant registrarship. “To the amazement of all right thinking onlookers, her junior by far, Zimbabwean Takura Charumbira, was, in violation of all progression procedures, appointed Assistant Registrar and Master.

The petition further states that some Batswana magistrates have been forced to resign because their transfers “were not handled properly.”

States the petition: “To illustrate this point, the following magistrates resigned due to unfair transfers: Ms Rinso Sebako ÔÇô transfer to Masunga from Gaborone. The family and personal circumstances of this magistrate made her request for a reconsideration of the transfer. The request was refused and she resigned not because she did not want a transfer but sought an indulgence on her family circumstances,
“Ms Lenah Mokibe ÔÇô This magistrate was transferred from Gaborone to Kanye Magistrate Court and as she was settling in Kanye she, within one year of the transfer, received a letter transferring her from Kanye to Ghanzi. This looked rather unfair to all reasonable onlookers. She went to Ghanzi under protest and shortly thereafter resigned.

“ A magistrate with formidable experience, Ms Tapiwa Marumo ( who graduated in 1988) practiced in the private sector up to 1995 and joined the Administration of Justice in 1996 but was not put at a proper grade. In terms of the scheme of service, she, at the very least, deserved to be employed as Chief Magistrate. This never happened.

For reasons impossible to justify, she was kept at Senior Magistrate from October 1996 to August 1999. Strangely enough, she was even not considered good enough to be appointed Assistant Registrar and Master. Despite her unquestionable quality, she was made to endure unhappy years of service with AOJ. She has since resigned and is now employed as Registrar of the Industrial Court. She could easily have been retained as Deputy Registrar by the AOJ.”

The petition further states that, “recently three posts of Assistant Registrar and Master of the High Court were advertised. In response to the adverts, a number of Batswana who meet the requirement applied.

“The following local magistrates applied; Barnabas Nyamazabo (Principal Magistrate) Lorraine Makati-Lesang (Principal Magistrate) Gaedupe Makgato ( Principal Magistrate). All these people had 10 years while others had more than 10 years experience. They received neither acknowledgement of receipt of their applications by the members of the Judicial Services Commission nor did they receive regrets. To their surprise, while still awaiting responses, a Zimbabwean Mr. Takura Charumbira was appointed Acting Assistant Registrar and Master. Mr. Charumbira has now been confirmed as assistant Registrar although he did not apply for the job.

It has emerged that staffing of head quarters by expatriates who have since abandoned the judiciary’s performance management systems has resulted in contentious promotions which are frustrating citizen magistrates. The petition by magistrates points out that, “Recent promotions by the JSC have left all of us both shocked and perplexed as they go against all performance management systems and known progression criteria. The following recent promotions have set tongues wagging for their illegitimacy and are a source of frustration for us all.

“A Magistrate in Francistown (Ms Thato Mujaji) was promoted twice within a period of six months. She was in October 2006 promoted to Magistrate Grade 1. In December 2006, she was again promoted to Acting Senior Magistrate. She is by no means an outstanding performer. Her fate contrasts sharply to that of these magistrates.

“Magistrate Grade 1, S Mbole, Magistrate Grade 1, Taboka Slave, Magistrate Grade 1, M F Beja, who have the additional responsibilities of heading stations.

Magistrate Beja heads the Masunga court, while Magistrate Mbole, until her recent transfer, headed Palapye Magistrate Court. Taboka Slave is now head of Ghanzi Magistrate Court.

“Magistrate Grade 111, Alice Rammapudi, has, despite hard work, been made to wallow at this Grade for 18 months. If it is possible to promote less performing magistrates within three months, why leave her out. Is she being punished for her hard work?

“Magistrate Grade 11, Kamogelo Khan, graduated from the University of Botswana in 2002 and worked in the private practice for three years. She then joined the judiciary with three years experience but was put at Grade 11. Despite her proven competence and hard work she has not received the favour granted to Thato Mujaji. What she wants is not a favour but recognition and reward for her hard work. Is the AOJ waiting for her to resign and replace her with an expatriate?

“A Magistrate Grade1, Mr. Clifford Foroma, was appointed Grade 1 in August 2006 and barely (3) three to (4) four months later in December 2006 he was promoted to the post of Senior Magistrate without performance track record. Is promotion no longer based on performance track record?

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