THE Acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase has bemoaned the inadequate funding of the judiciary, saying this could erode public confidence in the judiciary and promote instability in the country.
Justice Mahase said a well-funded judiciary would be a catalyst and bedrock of economic development, observance of human rights and the rule of law.
She said this during the official opening of the High Court for the 2019 judicial year on Friday. The ceremony was attended by Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki, several cabinet ministers, legislators and other dignitaries.
Justice Mahase began by leading a procession of 14 judges and staff and inspecting the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) battalion which was part of the proceedings.
Once inside the courtroom, Justice Mahase, spoke about the need for the government to adequately fund the operations of the judiciary to engender public confidence as well as ensure the observance of the of human rights and the rule of law.
“A well-funded judicial service is the indispensable fulcrum around which any modern nation’s socio-eco-political development, transformation and stability revolves,” Justice Mahase said, adding, “I dare say a well-funded judiciary attracts investors, both foreign and domestic”.
The Acting Chief Justice said for the judges to carry out their mandate efficiently and as part of their statutory benefits they each needed to be allocated an official vehicle.
“We have 14 High Court judges inclusive of the Chief Justice and the President of the Court of Appeal. We all qualify for official vehicles,” Justice Mahase said, adding their current vehicles had aged as they were commissioned in 2013.
“As a result, most judges use private and borrowed transport to make it to work. They travel in the same vehicle in groups of three and sometimes never make it to work for long periods.
“Fortunately, we recently got a favourable response (from government) and thankfully judges will not be stranded again,” she said.
The Acting Chief Justice said the budgetary constraints had also contributed to the shortage of official residences for judges.
She said as a result, some judges were forced to live in rundown residences in places that were very insecure and compromised their personal security.
She further said that the entire judicial complex was in a state of disrepair due to the lack of funds.
Justice Mahase said that the treasury had over the years slashed the funding allocated to the judiciary- a development which rendered it incapable of servicing its debts and paying its operating costs.
“In the fiscal year 2014/2015, our operating costs’ allocation from the national cake was M28 843 725, up from the M27 024 169 of the previous year.
“Since then we have experienced a terrible downward spiral save for 2017/2018 when our allocation was increased to M42 239 379.
“In the fiscal years 2015-2016, the judiciary allocation was cut by a whopping M6 992 325. In 2016/2017, we again experienced a huge budgetary cut of M1 271 834 while in the fiscal year 2018-2019 our budget allocation again took a huge unprecedented cut of M26 307 683, 25.
“This massive cut spells the proverbial death knell to the judiciary’s faint hopes servicing its debts, let alone paying for its operating costs.”
The Acting Chief Justice warned that “if you starve the judiciary of meaningful funding, you promote instability and erode public confidence in the rule of law”.
“You ultimately promote a nation of believers in the evil of self-help because the judiciary simply cannot discharge its constitutional mandate.
“An under-funded judiciary also contributes to low morale in the workplace and conflict as junior officers wrongly believe they are being marginalised by management,” said the Acting Chief Justice.
She also said there was a recurring fallacy that the judiciary was not an income generating organ and therefore did not deserve to be well-funded.
“This unfortunate misconception is ill-conceived as it is very dangerous,” she said.
She further said although the judiciary was alive to the fact that the sources of government revenue were dwindling, this did not mean that the judiciary should bear the brunt of the unfortunate economic downturn in our country”.