MASERU — High Court judges have been told to find their own way to work if their official cars break down or are taken for routine service, the Sunday Express can reveal.
In a circular dispatched to the country’s 11 judges, the government says it can no longer afford to hire vehicles for them because of the huge costs involved and the current financial challenges.
Under normal circumstances the Ministry of Justice is supposed to hire a replacement car if a judge’s vehicle breaks down or has been taken for service.
But since last December the ministry has not been able to do this, resulting in some judges failing to come to work or resorting to using public transport.
Last year, this paper broke the story of Justice Maseforo Mahase who was forced to use public transport because her official car had broken down and the ministry had not hired a replacement vehicle for her.
This week, the Sunday Express can reveal that a circular has since been sent to judges about this new arrangement.
Investigations have revealed that the circular was sent to judges following a December 3 meeting between principal secretary of the Ministry of Justice RC Masenyetse, a registrar from the High Court and Court of Appeal, L Mokeke, and an Imperial Fleet Management official, Mary Lepota.
The meeting, which was held at around 11:40am, was meant to discuss “Honourable Judges car service problems with Imperial”.
Imperial no longer manages the government’s vehicles but it is still in charge of vehicles that belong to ministers and judges.
This paper has seen the minutes of that meeting.
The minutes show that the ministry was not happy that Imperial was taking too long to repair judges’ vehicles, forcing it to incur huge costs in hiring replacement vehicles.
Masenyetse, according to the minutes, complained that “this practice creates undue hardship(s) for the judges as they are no longer given any replacement cars to take care of their transport needs pending the return of their cars”.
The meeting resolved that judges should book their cars for service at least 500km before they are due for service so that “they take at least a day or two before being returned”.
But highly placed sources say judges had already started feeling the pinch of the new measures way before the meeting.
Justice Mahase, for instance, went for nearly two months without an official vehicle last year.
Although Justice Mahase now has her official vehicle, the Sunday Express can reveal that three more High Court judges do not have their official vehicles.
Justice Thamsanqa Nomncongo has been struggling to come to work since his car broke down sometime last year.
“Since then he has been using his own car and is having problems getting reimbursed for his petrol costs,” said the source.
It is understood that on Thursday, Justice Nomncongo failed to make it for work because of the transport problems and his cases had to be taken by another judge.
Justice Lisebo Chaka-Makhooane’s official vehicle is understood to have broken down last week and she had to spend most of the week without an official vehicle.
Some of her cases were delayed reportedly because of her transport problems, the source said.
Justice Ts’eliso Monaphathi is also understood to be having problems with his official vehicle.
“Our judges are already underpaid but now they are being inconvenienced because of a basic thing like a car,” said the source.
“Judges are peeved by the new arrangement because some junior court employees like the registrar of court drive hired vehicles.”
A registrar of court is equivalent to a clerk.
The new arrangement comes at a time when Lesotho is struggling to reduce a huge backlog of cases in the courts.
If a judge does not come to work their cases are either postponed or given to another judge.
“But because most of the judges are already overwhelmed most of the cases are normally just postponed,” the source added.
Lawyers say this arrangement is likely to slow the justice delivery system further.
Advocate Zwelakhe Mda, president of the Law Society of Lesotho, said the new arrangement just shows the “kind of problems (that we have) in the judiciary”.
“People don’t see these problems until they start getting affected directly,” he said.
“This is a huge problem that only adds to our conviction that we have a crisis in the judiciary.”