- all courts expected to share a meagre M937 366 for three months
IN a shocking development that is set to further cripple the already hamstrung judiciary, the government has only allocated a measly M937 366 to be shared by all the country’s courts including the High Court and Court of Appeal.
This according to the High Court and Court of Appeal Registrar, Advocate ‘Mathato Sekoai.
Adv Sekoai this week told journalists in Maseru that the meagre amount is for the first quarter of the 2021/22 financial year from April to June 2021. To put the matter into perspective, the M937 366 budget for all the courts is much less than the M1, 3 million electricity debt owed by the Maseru Magistrates’ Court alone.
It is inconceivable how the government expects the Court of Appeal, High Court and over 50 subordinate courts to use the paltry amount to cover their operational costs which include electricity, gas, coal costs, water, fuel, stationery and telephone bills among others.
The paltry allocation is in contravention of section 118(3) of the constitution which mandates the government to “accord such assistance as the courts may require to enable them to protect their independence, dignity and effectiveness, subject to the constitution or any other law”.
So dire is the underfunding situation that the crippled judiciary has had to suspend the recruitment of seven new judges of the High Court, Adv Sekoai said.
Adv Sekoai, who is also the secretary of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), said all in all, the judiciary had been allocated just M11 million as its annual budget. She said they needed at least M25 million for operational expenses for the 2021/2022 financial year.
She said the amount they were allocated was M9 million less than what they were given in the previous financial year.
Of that M11 million, she said the High Court had only been allocated M463 788, 55 for April, May and June 2021.
As a result, Adv Sekoai said the JSC had been forced to suspend the processes of recruiting seven new judges who are urgently needed to ease the shortage which has contributed to a huge backlog of cases estimated at more than 4000.
Adv Sekoai said the suspension of the judges’ recruitment was to enable them to negotiate with the executive to increase the judiciary’s budget allocation.
“On 23 April 2021 we released a circular indicating that the appointment of new judges had been suspended but had not explained what necessitated the postponement,” Adv Sekoai said adding, “this is due to the low budget that has been allocated the judiciary”.
“The recruitment process has not been terminated. Once we have funds it will continue from where it stopped. We are currently in talks with the relevant stakeholders to allocate us more money.
“Two of the judges to be appointed will be posted at the Tšifa-li-mali Court Complex in Leribe and that means we have to sort out their accommodation, cars and allowances. However, the M463 788, 55 allocated to the High Court for this quarter cannot even afford to buy a car for one judge. It only covers the electricity, water, petrol and telephone expenses of the current (eight) judges we have.”
There are 36 hopefuls vying to fill the seven judges’ posts. These include former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s daughter Advocate ‘Mabatšoeneng Hlaele and Chief Magistrates ‘Matankiso Nthunya, ‘Makampong Mokgoro and Manyathela Kolobe.
Other well-known candidates are former Defence and National Security Principal Secretary (PS) Tšeliso Mokoko and former Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) Senior Manager Realeboha Mathata.
However, the recruitment exercise will have to be put on hold until after the government has increased its budgetary allocation to the High Court.
While the High Court has been allocated only M463 788, the Court of Appeal is worse off after being given only M20 215 for the first quarter of the 2021/22 financial year.
The situation is even more dire in the lower courts in the country’s 10 districts.
The lower courts in Maseru have been allocated M96 149 while those in Mafeteng have been given M31 305; Berea M24 289; Leribe M11 177; Butha-Buthe M4 316; Mokhotlong M5 549; Qacha’s Nek M31 159; Quthing M6 760; Mohale’s Hoek M8 599 and Thaba Tseka M12 006. The Master of the High Court has been allocated M209 060.
Commenting on the allocations to the lower courts, Adv Sekoai said it would be “impossible” for them to function on the paltry budgets.
“Last year we were allocated M20 million for the entire year. We had requested M25 million for the current financial year which started in April 2021 but we were unfortunately allocated only M11 million. Of that amount, M5 million is for the High Court and the rest has to be shared by the other courts.
“We are not given the money as a lump sum but it comes in instalments on a quarterly basis. It will be impossible to operate on this budget and we are hopeful that the current talks with the government will yield positive results,” Adv Sekoai said.