The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has moved quickly to the defence of its Chairman and Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo against judges who are accusing him of bringing the judiciary system into disrepute.
This follows media reports that Dibotelo had reported some judges for investigation after it emerged that they were paid housing allowance although they were staying in official residences as the allowance in question is meant only for judges without such residences.
The four justices are Key Dingake, Modiri Letsididi, Mercy Garekwe and Shakes Busang.
The judges had demanded that Dibotelo “withdraw the letters you wrote to us dated 10th August 2015 with immediate effect.”
However, instead of withdrawing the letters, JSC Secretary Michael Motlhabi, in a statement issued on Friday, said “… the decision to refer the issue of wrongful payment and receipt of housing allowance for an independent investigation was that of the Judicial Service Commission as a whole, taken unanimously in good faith after a lengthy and searching debate. It was not, as suggested, a decision taken by the Chief Justice alone.”
Motlhabi added that “It should be noted that the JSC is charged with protecting the integrity of the Judiciary and of the Administration of Justice. In terms of the internal Audit Report the alleged payments concerned total in excess of P800, 000, and this was considered to be a matter that could not be adequately resolved internally.”
In a letter addressed to Dibotelo, the judges state that “the full import of your letter or complaint to the police is that the judges, of which your are the first among equals, have in your eyes, and by extension the Judicial Service Commission, committed a criminal offence. This is the most degrading and gravest of accusations a chief justice can level at his colleagues.”
The judges said that “in our respectful view, in the nature of the complaint, there is nothing for the police to investigate because whether or not the housing allowance was paid to us, is a matter in which the Administration of Justice can easily confirm with the payroll section and an arrangement can be made easily made with the affected judges to pay back the agreed amounts. The judges confirmed that “unbeknown to us and without our consent, such allowance was paid to us. We are as a matter of fact willing to pay back the aforesaid amounts.”
They said it was the primary responsibility of the Administration of Justice or its accounting officer to stop housing allowance once a judge is allocated an official residence.
“It is a matter of record that some of colleagues you are now accusing alerted the Administration of Justice of this lapse and no action was taken. It is further a matter of record that we are not the only judges to whom housing or other allowances have been paid by the Administration of inadvertently when they were not entitled to same. In this context your selective approach is highly questionable, amounts to harassment and witch-hunting,’ said the judges.
They added that “We are of the view that there was no basis upon which to proceed in the manner you did other than being actuated by the crudest and most glaring form of malice to “destroy careers” of some including those “who want to replace you as Chief Justice” as you recently declared publicly.” They also accused Dibotelo of defaming them in the “civil and criminal sense” by taking up the allowance matter with the police.
“We shall in due course instruct our lawyers to sue for defamation of character and lay criminal charges of criminal defamation against you with the police,” said the judges.
The judges called on Dibotelo to resign with immediate effect as that will be in the best interest of the country. “Should you decline to do so, we would advise ourselves as to whether impeachment proceedings would be in order and/competent,” said the judges.
They added that “this development, together with the other incident in which you alleged that the judges are corruptible has damaged the reputation of the Judiciary.”