. . . bemoans meagre budget for judiciary
CHIEF Justice Nthomeng Majara has hit out at parliament for approving perennially “meagre” budgetary allocations to the judiciary, saying they were negatively affecting the administration of justice.
In her keynote address during the official opening of the High Court in Maseru yesterday, Justice Majara said at some point the financial squeeze was so severe they had to rely on a donation from a local company to buy basic materials such as judges’ gowns.
Held amid pomp and circumstance, the ceremony was attended by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili among other senior dignitaries.
Justice Majara —who assumed office in 2014 to become the country’s first woman to occupy the post — emphasised the judiciary should never be comprised because of lack of resources hence the need for the arm of government to be capacitated.
“For some imperceptible reasons, the judiciary is forever short-changed in terms of budget allocation by successive parliaments,” she said.
“What needs to be noted most importantly is that unlike all government ministries, the judiciary is an arm of government just like the executive and the legislature, and therefore deserves not necessarily a preferential share of the budget, but a sustainable and realistic one regard being had to its huge size, not to mention the number of its very senior judicial officers, that are by law entitled to certain benefits commensurate with their position and huge constitutional mandate.”
As a result, Justice Majara said, the judiciary was constrained as far as performing its constitutional mandate of administering of justice was concerned.
“The Honourable Minister of Finance (Tlohang Sekhamane) will surely agree with me in my assertion that we are probably the only arm of government, along with a few other ministries, that operate on a shoestring budget,” the chief justice said.
“This disadvantaged and vulnerable position inevitably impedes negatively on us in a big way in the delivery of our constitutional mandate.
“As a result we have had to periodically ask for supplementary and contingency budget from the ministry every quarter of the year which has unfortunately often not been approved.”
Justice Majara pointed out that the judiciary played an important role in attracting confidence for investors and ensuring observance of the rule of law.
“While I do admit that the judiciary and its various departments is not necessarily a revenue-generating arm, it is a fact that our contribution to engendering economic growth, attracting investor confidence, ensuring the existence of the rule of law and good governance and therefore fostering international integrity not to mention providing critical service to the poor and marginalized, cannot be underestimated.
“Thus, more public funding has to be channelled to this institution to make it efficient, transparent and user-friendly.”
She said at some point they were rescued by the benevolence of a local company she did not mention by name – which bankrolled the acquisition of basic materials for the High Court such as judges’ gowns.
“In this regard, suffice it for me to mention that professional court gowns for all the 11 honourable judges, with a set each worth about M20 000, as well as other resources such as fans, heaters, crockery and cutlery for the individual chambers, court-rooms and other offices were donated by one of these well-meaning institutions through its managing director.
“Needless to say, this situation is far from ideal as it might create the wrong perception in the eyes of some, that by so doing these good Samaritans will be looked upon favourably should they ever be involved in litigation before our courts although I hasten to assure you that judicial officers are responsible professionals and are fully conscious of their sacred oath of office hence their unsurprising unpopularity for dispensing justice without fear or favour in accordance with their sacred oath of office.”
Justice Majara also bemoaned the limited number of judges in the country, saying it was to the detriment of the speedy delivery of justice.
“Despite the skyrocketing statistics of cases and the creation of the specialized Commercial and Land divisions of this court as independent establishments, the existing number of judges has remained the same for many years.”
With a population size similar to Lesotho, she said Botswana was a good example with a High Court staffed by 26 judges who are decentralised despite a far lesser number of cases than Lesotho.
“On our side, we have a complement of 12 judges.”
The top judge said if the judicial structure they proposed to government could be approved, it would help address the backlog of cases in the courts.
“While judicial officers are committed to dispense justice to their fellow citizens, they can only do so within reasonable limits.
“It is thus sad to realise that it continues to be expected to do miracles and is often unfairly compared with other jurisdictions where this has long been addressed.
“Thus oftentimes the courts are blamed even for problems beyond our capabilities.”
Justice Majara also warned critics to acquaint themselves with court procedures to avoid making unfounded allegations against the judiciary.
“There is a serious misconception that whenever a criminal case is brought before the court for the first time, it is necessarily ready for hearing but the courts for selfish or corrupt reasons simply postpone them,” she said.
“It would therefore be wise for the sceptics to attend the remand sessions at any Magistrate Court to see that, overwhelming majority of serious cases are pending completion of investigations, arrests or securing of witnesses.”
The official opening of the High Court is held in every first day of February annually to mark the beginning of the year for the court.