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High Court bash gobbles M200 000

MASERU – The High Court blew nearly M200 000 on food and drinks during the official opening on Tuesday despite the fact that the courts are facing serious financial problems.

Nearly 1 000 guests who attended the official ceremony were treated to expensive food and drinks.

Although some local businessmen and companies contributed M44 000 to the event, the bulk of the bill was paid by the High Court.

Yet this is the same court that last year failed to clear its mounting backlog of criminal cases because it could not afford to pay allowances for witnesses.

The High Court and the magistrate’s court were so broke that they could not transport or feed witnesses called for criminal cases.

As a result most criminal cases, especially those to do with murder and car theft, remained stagnant.

Witnesses in criminal cases get a M50 allowance per day.

The court has to pay for their transport.

Summonses and subpoenas could not be issued because there was no money to fund a unit that had been established to provide that service. 

The courts also spent the better half of the year without basic stationery like pens and paper because its budget had been exhausted.

In some cases judges failed to print judgments because the court had failed to buy computer cartridges and paper.

The courts also failed to pay lawyers hired by the state to represent suspects who could not afford legal services.

In the same year some judges went for months without vehicles because the High Court could not afford to hire replacement vehicles.

So dire was the situation that some judges like Justise ‘Maseforo Mahase were forced to use public transport.

Senior judge Justice Tseliso Monapathi found himself in an ethical dilemma after he borrowed a vehicle from MKM, a company with a battery of cases in the High Court, because his official car had not been repaired.

At the Palace of Justice basics like toilet paper became scarce.

When toilets got blocked the High Court took days to hire a plumber because its shoestring budget was already strained.

One elevator is still not working. 

At one time, the court asked lawyers to bring their own files because the courts had none.

Lawyers this week described 2010 as the year in which the judiciary was in a state of near paralysis.

Yet despite this financial crisis the High Court still managed to somehow raise M200 000 for the Tuesday jaunt, which some lawyers say should have been low-key because of the critical shortage of money. 

Senior government officials, ministers, judges and diplomats were treated to expensive food at Maseru Club.

Expensive wines and whiskeys were also on the menu.

Lesotho Sun provided catering services and billed the High Court M117 500. 

Low ranking court officials and other invited guests gathered at CTC Club where they also enjoyed a good party. 

The difference with the one at Maseru Club was that the officials had to cook for themselves. 

Yet even with such innovation sources say their moderate function took more than M40 000 in food expenses. 

Add the drinks that flowed and the total cost of the CTC party, which was supposedly a low budget party, could easily run into M100 000.

The High Court had initially signed an order of M132 000 for food and drinks at Maseru Club.

Prominent lawyer Haae Phoofolo said he did not attend the event because he was “appalled by the irony of it all”.

“It was a matter of principle,” he said.

“How could we afford to enjoy such luxuries when the courts were starved of resources last year? 

“Many a times we were told that the courts had no paper and witnesses had not been brought to court because there was no money. How then do we get the money for such a huge ceremony?”

He added: “We were told we would get court rolls on e-mail but sometimes we don’t get them because the connection is bad.”

Even Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla admitted in his official opening speech that the courts had experienced a crippling financial crisis.

He said a unit established to serve summonses and subpoenas on witnesses collapsed because there was no money to sustain it.

Justice Lehohla also said he inspected some of the local and central courts in Maseru where, in some places, the roofs were leaking.

Justice Lehohla stated that the financial crisis in the judiciary also affected court messengers.

He said he learnt during his inspection that court messengers sometimes use their own money to escort detainees to prison because of the crisis.

“There were several other matters raised as of concern but the gravest among them in my view consisted of messengers of court being put under the necessity to use their own monies for performing court duties,” Justice Lehohla said.

“For example paying bus fares for detainees they accompany from the station to prison or else facing unenviable prospects of going on Shank’s mare for miles on end with the detainees,” he said.

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