MASERU — Judges and other judicial officers must be well paid so that they are not corrupted, a senior High Court judge says.
Justice Semapo Peete said this in a paper he presented at a workshop for jurists by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) from July 28-30.
His paper was titled “Reviewing Mechanism to Prevent and Combat Judicial Corruption: the experience of Lesotho”.
In it, Justice Peete says underpaid judges are vulnerable to taking bribes to pass favourable rulings.
Poorly remunerated judicial officers are susceptible to corruption.
“Inadequate or unsatisfactory remuneration of the judicial officers often renders some (certainly not all) very vulnerable to corrupt influence by unscrupulous litigants,” the judge says.
He says appropriate salary structures should be established to attract competent judicial officers and retain those who are already on the job.
“In short, remuneration that is likely to be supplemented with bribes or other improper benefits is certainly not satisfactory.”
Justice Peete’s paper does not talk about specific salary and benefits for judiciary officers in the country but the Sunday Express understands that Lesotho’s judicial officers are some of the lowest paid in the region.
Local judges get almost a fraction of what their South African or Namibian counterparts get per month.
Local magistrates are also paid far less that what their counterparts in the region are earning.
This is the same case with prosecutors, judge’s clerks and registrar who are all qualified lawyers by profession.
A local judge is paid about M25 000 per month (see story on Page 2 for other details on judges’ pay).
This brings their annual salary to about M300 000.
A South African judge was getting nearly M1 000 000 a year per year in 2007. That brought their monthly salary to just over M80 000.
In his paper Justice Peete says the judicial sector can be corrupted if it is under-funded and resourced.
The judiciary should not have to beg for resources from the national treasury: “Tensions and alienation creep in when little or grossly inadequate financial resources are allocated to the administration of justice in the government’s budget — and the judiciary is relegated to the position of a “mendicant” (beggar) in order to keep the court system on an even keel,” he says.
“The inevitable result of persistent failure to address the needs of the judiciary is that the scourge of corruption rears its ugly head and bribery set in.”
Again Justice Peete mentions no specific examples to the Lesotho situation. But investigations by this paper have revealed that at the moment the High Court and the magistrate’s courts have a serious shortage of basic stationery and money to pay transport and food allowances to witnesses (see related story on Page 2).
This paper also understands that judges don’t have flash disks, cartridges for their printers, pens and printing paper.
Judges are still not getting replacements when their official vehicles break down or are taken for routine service.
Last December this newspaper revealed how Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase was forced to use public transport because the High Court had failed to give her a replacement when her official vehicle broke down.
Other judges were also facing the same plight. Investigations this week revealed that this problem is still persisting although the registrar of the High Court and Court of Appeal ‘Mathato Sekoai says plans are underway to replace the old vehicles.
She says the High Court recently received some money from the treasury to keep it running.
Justice Peete said unscrupulous influence of judges in Africa sometimes comes in the form of political corruption.
“At worst unscrupulous politicians often seek to influence the process of judicial appointments in order to ensure appointments of their protegees through nepotism, patronage and favouritism.”
He said such a “servile judicial appointee stand forever beholden and in awe of their patrons”.
Such appointees lack independence and true impartiality, he added.
Justice Peete explained that the appointment process of judges can make or break a country’s judiciary.
“A corrupt appointment process will no doubt bring potentially corrupt persons into the judiciary.”
The judiciary should never be politicised, he warned.
“A judge once appointed should never (be) labelled “…our man…” or “…our woman”.
The judge said there had been recent suggestions that Lesotho’s Judicial Service Commission (JSC) should be more representative to include members of the Law Society, the Faculty of Law at the National University of Lesotho and other stakeholders.
But for this to happen, he says, the constitution should be reviewed.
The JSC is responsible for the appointment of judges.
Currently it is made up of the Chief Justice, the Attorney General, and the chairman of the Public Service Commision and the president of the Court of Appeal.
The Law Society has in the past blasted the constitution of the JSC, arguing that it is not well representative.
Justice Peete said the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime is yet to make “its mark in the fight against corruption”.
“It needs more autonomy, more capacity, resources and training.”