Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Motlhabi swims in judges’ mess

The administration of Justice (AoJ) is entangled in a jumble of double standards over the controversial issue of judges’ housing allowance.

While the AoJ insists that Justices Terence Rannowane and Stephen Gaongalelwe were entitled to a housing allowance while lodging in a hotel at government expense, the same department wants Justice Gaopalelwe Ketlogetswe to pay back the housing allowance he received while booked at Avani Hotel.

In her affidavit, Senior Internal Auditor in the Ministry of Defence Justice and Security Maria Mokgwathi accuses Registrar and Master of the High Court Michael Motlhabi of playing double standards. Mokgwathi states that “it is a cause for concern that Motlhabi, who is the Accounting Officer for the Administration of Justice, is playing double standards. 

She said that while Motlhabi agrees with Gaongalelwe that he was entitled to continue earning the housing allowance while staying in a hotel at government expense, recently he adopted a different approach to a similar circumstanced judge, Ketlogetswe.

“After Justice Ketlogetswe was transferred from Francistown to Gaborone he was accommodated in Avani Hotel in Gaborone, at government expense. Mr Motlhabi wrote him and told him to repay the housing allowance,” she said.

The row over Ketlogetswe’s housing allowance has branched off into another controversy after it emerged that the judge was paid the allowance after he had on a number of occasions asked the AoJ to stop the payments.

In a letter addressed to Motlhabi, Ketlogetswe accuses the Registrar and Master of the High Court of skirting “around the issue that even though I have been coming to your office to see you personally every month from mid-august 2015 to end of March 2016, you did not ensure that payments were stopped immediately”.

He added that “why do you pretend to become aware of the issue on 17th November 2015. You instead authorised that I be paid housing allowance, alongside the other Honourable judges and listed therein.”

Ketlogetswe is referring to Gaongalelwe and Rannowane who have since approached the High Court demanding that some portion of the audit report be expunged. Justices Oagile Dingake, Modiri Letsididi, Mercy Garekwe and Ranier Busang who were also listed in the report have since been suspended by President Ian Khama for allegedly receiving housing allowance that they were not entitled to. Also listed in the report is former Judge and the current Minister of Education Unity Dow.

“I wish to put you on notice that I will not accept your arbitrary decision to interfere with my salary in the purported exercise of your powers as Accounting Officer for a problem you yourself have created,” states Ketlogetswe.

He further states that: “I wish to put you on notice that my offer to pay P2 000 per month which you rejected six months ago and thereafter went silent, stands withdrawn on account that I’m no longer in a financial position to pay that amount.”

According to Ketlogetswe, his financial circumstances “have changed and I can now only reasonably afford to P1000 per month effective of the date of this minute (October 12, 2016).”

“Lastly, I request that whatever decision you may wish to take in respect of authorising deductions from my salary, may I be consulted on, and informed of the amount of deduction to avoid me having to institute proceedings for an interim interdict on urgent basis, should the decision be prejudicial to me,” reads Ketlogetswe’s letter.

In his letter dated October 11, 2016, Motlhabi had informed Ketlogetswe that he was not to blame for failure to stop allowance payments made in favour of Ketlogetswe. According to court records, the letter was to among others solicit Ketlogetswe’s views on a Sunday Standard enquiry that sought to establish whether the judge received housing allowance while lodging at Avani Hotel in Gaborone at government’s expense.

Motlhabi’s letter addressed to Ketlogetswe marked “Sunday Standard Enquiry-Housing Allowance, Yourself” states that: “It is standard practice to solicit the views of those concerned in a matter prior to formulating a response. This is the approach we advised in the instant case by requesting for comments so that the final release has your input.”

Motlhabi added that: “Although I will not delve into the payment of housing allowance relating to suspended judges, I will, however, point out that although they were paid in July 2015, I had given instructions to have the payments stopped, therefore negligence cannot be imputed on my part.”

Motlhabi argues that when he became aware of the over payments in question, he gave instructions to have a casualty return stopping payment issued immediately.

“This is evident from an extract dated November 17, 2015 when Mrs L Nzuku reminded Miss B Toteng of my instructions to have the housing allowance stopped immediately,” states Motlhabi.

He added that: “I confirm that I stopped the Administrators from deducting P2 000 to enable me as the Accounting Officer to decide on the amount to be deducted for the overpayments. I will be effecting the deductions but it will not be P2 000 per month.”

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