JUSTICE delivery will grind to halt in the country’s districts as the paltry amounts allocated to the courts for the 2021/22 financial year will be used to service outstanding debts, a senior magistrate has said.
In a weekend interview with the Sunday Express, Northern Region Chief Magistrate, ‘Makampong Mokgoro, said unless the government urgently increased their budget allocation, the 27 courts under her jurisdiction will not be able to render any services to the public.
Chief Magistrate Mokgoro is in charge of nine courts in Leribe, seven in Berea, six in Mokhotlong and five in Butha-Buthe.
Berea was allocated a measly M24 289 for the first quarter of the current financial year which runs from April to June 2021; Leribe received M11 177; Butha-Buthe M4 316 and Mokhotlong M5 549.
But these amounts are grossly inadequate to fund the operations of the 27 courts which include one magistrates’ court per district. The rest are local courts.
“In total, the Northern Region has been allocated about M45 000 for the first quarter of the current financial year but all that money will be used to pay the debts incurred in Leribe while preparing for T?ifa-li-mali Court complex which began operating last month,” Magistrate Mokgoro said.
The T?ifa-li-mali Court building was constructed in 2013 but it had not been operational due to lack of furniture, water and electricity. Its boasts of six courtrooms. Four of the courtrooms are operating as magistrates’ courts while the remaining two have been earmarked to house the decentralised High Court which will begin operations once judges have been appointed.
Magistrate Mokgoro said due to the paltry allocation, magistrates and other judicial officers will have to dig into their own pockets to continue offering services while awaiting an increased allocation from the state.
In fact, she said she had already paid M500 just to get the courtroom cleaned in Leribe where she is based.
“The allocations are not enough. This means that there will be no funds for the courts to function. We will have to use our own monies if ever we are to do our work.
“For instance, I have paid M500 from my own pocket to have someone the clean the courtyard. You will remember that it had not been in use for many years so you can just imagine the weeds that had grown in the place.
“It is not a new thing for us to use our own money, it is something we have always done. We often buy our own stationery and we also ask litigants in civil proceedings to bring their own stationery. Even now, you will realise that there is no provision for stationery in the budget allocation.
“We are forced to dig deep into our own pockets because we cannot just fold our hands when people are looking to us for justice. The worst part is that people still complain that we do not work whereas the truth of the matter is that we are hamstrung by these funding challenges.”
She however, said their own resources would not be enough to ensure full services. Consequently, the courts will be paralysed and some criminal cases will have to be postponed to a time when resources have been availed by the government, Magistrate Mokgoro said.
“I cannot imagine how most of the courts are going to operate. For instance, Mokhotlong is a very cold district and the priority this winter is the purchase of coal and gas for warmth. However, we do not have funds for that.
“Besides that, the lower courts have clerks and messengers who have to transport criminal suspects to the magistrates’ court. The poor messengers have to pay for their own transport and that of the accused. They would submit claims for reimbursement from the magistrates’ court but this time we do not have any money.
“This means that some of the cases will have to be deferred to a later time when there is money. You can just imagine the huge backlog this will cause,” Magistrate Mokgoro said.
She said the judicial crisis was likely to be experienced in the other regions as they also received paltry allocations.
Maseru has been allocated M96 149 for its 15 courts while Thaba Tseka got M12 006 for its eight courts. Mafeteng got M31 305 for its 12 courts, Qacha’s Nek received M31 159 for its 11 courts, Quthing M6 760 for seven courts and Mohale’s Hoek got M8 599 for its seven courts.
Magistrate Mokgoro was speaking against the background of High Court and Court of Appeal Registrar, Advocate ‘Mathato Sekoai’s revelations that the government had only allocated a measly M937 366 to be shared by all the country’s courts including the High Court and Court of Appeal.
Adv Sekoai last Tuesday said the meagre amount is for the first quarter of the 2021/22 financial year. To put the matter into perspective, the M937 366 budget for all the courts is much less than the M1, 3 million electricity debt owed by the Maseru Magistrates’ Court alone.
It is inconceivable how the government expects the Court of Appeal, High Court and over 50 subordinate courts to use the paltry amount to cover their operational costs which include electricity, gas, coal costs, water, fuel, stationery and telephone bills among others.
The paltry allocation is in contravention of section 118(3) of the constitution which mandates the government to “accord such assistance as the courts may require to enable them to protect their independence, dignity and effectiveness, subject to the constitution or any other law”.
So dire is the underfunding situation that the crippled judiciary has had to suspend the recruitment of seven new judges of the High Court, Adv Sekoai said.