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Cash crunch hits judiciary

Tefo Tefo

 MASERU — A serious financial crisis at the High Court and the magistrate’s court has left the country’s judicial sector in a state of paralysis, the Sunday Express can reveal. 

Investigations revealed that the country’s judicial sector is so broke that it can’t even afford basics like pens, printing paper and cartridges.

Files, stamps, recording tapes, flash disks and CDs are also in serious short supply.

The magistrate’s court has been failing to give transport and food allowances for witnesses for the past four months, bringing operations to a near stand-still.

Cases at the court have had to be postponed due to lack of witnesses.

So cash-strapped is the High Court that it has been forced to ground its elevators because it can’t service them.

Some are in desperate need of repairs while others have been grounded because their routine maintenance is overdue.

Fridges in the judges’ chambers have neither drinks nor water. 

Little things like sugar, milk and tea bags have run out.

The financial crisis has affected the delivery of justice in the country. 

The Sunday Express understands that the High Court and magistrate’s court owe thousands of maloti to lawyers who represent people who cannot afford to hire legal representatives for themselves.

The state normally provides lawyers to poor people in criminal cases.

Things got to a head on Tuesday when acting High Court judge Gabriel Mofolo announced in court that he could not make copies of his judgment because he did not have stationery.

A senior lawyer who was present in Mofolo’s court, Advocate Karabo Mohau, said it was not acceptable for the High Court to run out of stationery.

“It is not proper for these things to happen in the High Court when we see some things like alcoholic beverages being bought,” Mohau charged.

The registrar of the High Court and Court of Appeal ‘Mathato Sekoai told the Sunday Express on Wednesday these problems “will soon be sorted because government recently approved a supplementary budget for the judiciary”.

“Now that the Ministry of Finance has given us a supplementary budget we will manage to operate smoothly,” Sekoai said.

“We had no funds for operational costs since the beginning of this financial year. This is because of the tight budget that we had for this year.”

She said the supplementary budget was given to the High Court in June and she had already ordered some essentials.

This paper understands that the finance ministry approved the release of between M11 million and M12 million to the High Court.

“We will have enough stationery soon. The delay has only been caused by procurement procedures.”

She however admitted that even this supplementary budget was not enough to see the High Court through to the next financial year.

“This money is too little because we cannot even use it for maintenance. You are aware that even the elevators are not operating.

“It is because we don’t have sufficient funds for their maintenance. The situation with elevators will remain like this for the whole of this year.”

But despite this shoestring budget Sekoai said they are going ahead with plans to buy new cars for judges.

She said M6 million will be used to buy nine Mercedes Benz E200 vehicles cars for High Court judges.

“We don’t want to see judges struggling with transport to go to court and execute their duties. Their safety is also important because they are doing a delicate job,” she said.

She added that the new cars were necessary because most of the judges’ cars had outlived their three-year warranty.

“This means that we have to pay higher maintenance costs whenever we send them for servicing.

“It therefore makes sense to buy a new car because maintenance is free when the car is within its warranty.”

She revealed that four of the cars were ready for delivery.

“AVIS is only waiting for correspondence from the principal secretary for the justice ministry for their delivery,” she said.

The other five cars are expected to arrive within four months because they are still being manufactured, she said.

Part of the supplementary budget will be used to hire the Court of Appeal judges’ cars for the Court of Appeal sitting in October.

“We will use M550 000 to hire cars for judges of the Court of Appeal for the coming Court of Appeal session.

“We usually need M1.1 million to hire cars for the Court of Appeal judges every year.

“This is because the Court of Appeal has two sessions per year,” Sekoai said.

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