As Parliament Speaker, Phandu Skelemani has made the controversial ruling that press reportage should not be used as evidence of any sort during debates because such reportage is mere speculation. Resultantly, when Palapye MP, Onneetse Ramogapi, made reference to a newspaper story about a “certain” cabinet minister calling a High Court judge and instructing him how to rule in a case before him.
“That’s not right,” said the MP, prompting Eric Molale, the Minister of Transport and Public Works, to promptly leap to his feet on a point of procedure.
As he yielded, Ramogapi fired at one last salvo at the minister he was referring to: “The incident shows that there is a Chief Justice in this …” The last part never came out but would certainly have been “parliament.”
Molale’s point of procedure was to urge Skelemani to invoke the ruling that he had made. The latter agreed, noting as he did so that “there is clearly an innuendo to say the least, that somebody who made a call was out of line as alleged by newspapers.” In giving up, Ramogapi indicated to the Speaker that he will find an “indirect way” to raise that same issue. At least for the remainder of his contribution, the Palapye MP never found that way but he would certainly be angling for an opportunity to state in an indirect way what everyone knew he was talking about: the Minister for State President, Kabo Morwaeng allegedly calling Justice Gaopalelwe Ketlogetswe at the Lobatse High Court to interfere with the latter’s judicial independence. Contrary to what Skelemani said, the allegation in question was made not by newspapers but Ketlogetswe himself.
Last year, the judge reported Chief Justice Terrence Rannowane to President Mokgweetsi Masisi for allegedly attempting to get him to make a ruling that favoured the state in a matter that came before him. The matter involved Lobatse MP, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, who had applied for bail after he was arrested in connection with a ritual murder. From what Ketlogetswe alleged, Rannowane, alongside Morwaeng, leaned on him to reject Matsheka’s bail application and keep him locked up.
The house was debating an Administration of Justice bill relating to the remuneration of judges. Naturally, the issue of judicial independence came up and Ramogapi mentioned this incident in that context.
There would have been opportunity to illuminate the issue after Ketlogetswe made a court application to interdict Masisi, the Judicial Service Commission and Rannowane from instituting disciplinary action against him. The matter never got anywhere because an out-of-court settlement, whose details are still confidential, was reached. The only pending case relating to this matter is that launched by Matsheka who is suing the government for wrongful arrest and detention and defamation. The detention that Morwaeng reportedly wanted is connected to this lawsuit but it remains unclear whether Matsheka will raise that specific issue.
Morwaeng has himself never publicly talked about this issue but during last Wednesday debate, said that Botswana’s judiciary is made up of “men and women of integrity who can’t be corrupted.”