Legal officers take govt to court

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Tefo Tefo

THE CHIEF Legal Officer in the Ministry of Health, Phakiso Sealiete told the High Court that government ministries felt it was discriminatory that only their Foreign Affairs and Justice counterparts have directors of legal services.

Advocate Sealiete said this while testifying in the High Court on Tuesday in a case in which legal officials are challenging the government structure that provides for a position of director of legal services only in the two ministries.

He said according to the government circular issued by the Public Service ministry in 2013 only the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice were allowed to have positions of the Director of Legal Services- something which was discriminatory as all government ministries perform similar jobs.

“I got to know about the position or office of Director of Legal Services from a circular which was talking about normalisation of Chief Legal Officers in 2013.

Advocate Sealiete proceeded to outline the structure of the legal department in all government ministries as part of his attempt to demonstrate the anomaly in the two ministries.

“We have the legal officer, principal legal officer and the chief legal officer in ascending order in all ministries.

“But in the two ministries there is no office of the chief legal officer above the principal legal officer. They have the office of the director of legal services above the principal legal officer which creates a gap between the two positions,” he said.

Asked by the presiding judge Justice Semapo Peete if the duties performed by chief legal officers differ from those performed by directors of legal services he said: “The duties might differ here and there but for all intents and purposes we are all advising the ministries.”

The judge also asked him if the directors in the two ministries were “better than them”.

In response Advocate Sealiete said: “They are not better than us because we also advise our ministries and handle cases for our ministries that involve contractual and labour cases.

“Our duties are very demanding because in some instances one has to deal with politics and law in the ministries especially when it comes to the award of tenders.

“As legal officers we feel discriminated by the Ministry of Public Service.”

Justice Peete ordered the lawyer representing the Ministry of Public Service, Advocate Phillip Loubser, to invite the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Public Service to appear in court to explain why there was a difference in the government ministries concerning the department of legal services.

“I postpone this case to Tuesday the 14th February for mention but if the PS is available we will continue,” Justice Peete said.

 

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