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Magistrates, ministers set for crunch talks

by Lesotho Times
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Mohalenyane Phakela

RESTIVE magistrates, who are currently on a go-slow strike action to force the government to address their demands for higher salaries and improved working conditions, will next week hold talks with the Acting Chief Justice, ‘Maseforo Mahase, and ministers, Mokhele Moletsane (Justice and Correctional Services) and Semano Sekatle (Public Service).

The magistrates will be represented at the 10 May talks by the chief magistrates and the executive committee of the Judicial Officers Association of Lesotho (JOALE).

The three chief magistrates are ‘Matankiso Nthunya (Central Region), Manyathela Kolobe (Southern Region) and ‘Makampong Mokhoro (Northern Region).

The Central Region covers the districts of Maseru and Thaba Tseka while the Northern Region covers districts of Berea, Leribe, Butha-Buthe and Mokhotlong. The Southern Region covers Mafeteng, Mohale’s Hoek, Quthing and Qacha’s Nek.

According to Chief Magistrate Nthunya, the crunch talks are aimed at finding solutions to the longstanding grievances of the magistrates which include poor salaries and working conditions as well as lack of security. Ms Nthunya said this at a media briefing at the Maseru Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday.

“JOALE met with Justice Mahase a few weeks ago and after that she met with the Minster of Justice (Mokhele Moletsane) regarding our issues which JOALE had tabled before her,” Ms Nthunya said.

“We still have not got feedback from Mr Moletsane who had promised to table our issues to parliament and get back to us by end of January 2019. We had through one local radio station that he (Mr Moletsane) had said that he would not meet us anymore and he would only deal with us through the Acting Chief Justice.

“The Acting Chief Justice has asked that we, as the three Chief Magistrates, together with the JOALE executive, should meet her on 10 May. She said that the two minsters of Justice as well as Public Service will be present and the meeting aims to resolve the longstanding issues affecting our work.”

Lesotho’s 50 plus magistrates have been on a go-slow since 2 April 2019, bringing the lower courts to a virtual standstill. They first launched similar action in July last year demanding better working conditions. Apart from their paltry salaries, the magistrates are unhappy that they are not paid transport, telephone, security and responsibility allowances.

The magistrates are particularly livid with Justice Minister Moletsane whom they accuse of reneging on commitments to address their grievances. They accuse the minister of not giving them the feedback from cabinet by the promised date of 28 January 2019 over their request to be each paid a M3000 responsibility allowance.  The chief justice is currently paid a M5000 responsibility allowance while all the other judges get M4000. The magistrates are not paid anything even though the Public Service Commission and the Remuneration and Benefits Board had recommended that they all be paid a flat M3000 each in responsibility allowances.

The magistrates have also asked Justice Mahase to urgently convene a constitutional court sitting to adjudicate over what they say is “the unconstitutional scenario” in which they are treated as civil servants in violation of the separation of powers edict between the three arms of government; the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.

Last week, the Acting High Court Registrar, Pontšo Phafoli, told this publication that “Justice Mahase has promised to deal with magistrates’ issues and has already met with the minister (Mr Moletsane) about their issues”.

“She (Justice Mahase) has already got feedback and what is left is how they move forward on the implementation,” Ms Phafoli said without elaborating.

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