Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) President Andrew Motsamai has said the handling of the judges’ housing allowances which has resulted with President Ian Khama setting a Tribunal to investigate them is nothing but a witch-hunt.
Motsamai told a press conference on Monday that they see the ongoing saga having a damaging effect on the credibility and functionality of the judiciary now and in the long run, emphasising that there will also be more implications on democracy and citizens’ trust on the courts.
BOPEU’s view is that the incident paints a picture of a democracy under siege from the Executive.
“There appears to us a meddling by the Executive on the independence of the Judiciary. We also see the whole handling of the judges’ over payment as a witch-hunt. We struggle to understand how such a common administrative occurrence of wrongful or over payment could escalate into a national crisis of such magnitude. While we do not wish to engage on the legal arguments around this matter, we are of the view that the four Lordships fell into an ambush and they acted exactly as the mastermind had planned,” said Motsamai.
Motsamai said his union sees poor leadership as the root cause of it all.
“Poor management and on the part of the chief justice, Maruping Dibotelo is to blame. The way in which he handled the forum shopping debacle pointed to this.”
“The overpayment of housing allowances was allowed to get out of hand as a result of leadership that was overzealous in seeking to use the issue to settle past disagreements that the judges had with the Chief Justice. Whilst it is disappointing that the judge or any public officer should receive over payments over several months. It is not unusual in the public service,” Motsamai said.
He said every month several thousand public officers receive over payments but such cases are never referred to the police for prosecution.
“From 2010 to 2012, as the president of the BOPEU, I, was seconded to BOFEPUSU and whilst on secondment I continued to receive a scarce skill allowance for a period in excess of two years. The matter was never referred to the police and the anomaly was corrected by entering into an agreement for repayment of the same,” he said.
“There were several hundreds of Employees in the Public Service who continued to receive monthly salaries after they were fired following 2011 strike. These employees were never referred to the police for prosecution,”
BOPEU believes that the overpayment of judges was a simple administrative issue that ought to have been dealt with as such. But instead of deal ing with an administrative issue the establishment saw it as an opportunity to purge judges who do not conform to the prototype that the Executive and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) would like to see in the judiciary.
“The type of judicial officer that the JSC, the Chief Justice and the Executive want, is an executive-minded judge who pledges loyalty not to the constitution but to the Executive, Justice Dr Kholisani Solo who recently pledged his allegiance to the President Khama is the epitome of the calibre of judge that the Chief Justice would like to see in the judiciary,” said Motsamai
BOPEU said the matter could have been handled different by both parties. However, as Trade Unionists, they cannot look at the suspended judges as the same eyes as they look at the employer being the Chief Justice and President Khama.
Motsamai said Chief Justice and President Khama must take a bigger share of the blame.
“The employees allowed themselves to be entrapped in an avoidable trap. By taking the matter lightly they fell into a trap they will live to regret. They should have known better and ought to have been wiser,” he said.
The Union further cautioned the Law Society, which is reportedly embroiled in partisan political division and sectarianism.
“The current debacle is a test on it as an institution, which has a danger of rendering it irrelevant in the long run. They have been usurped by others on a matter that should have been theirs,” said Motsamai.