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‘Poor funding of courts not intentional’

Caswell Tlali

MASERU — The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) says there is no evidence that the government of Lesotho is manipulating the courts by intentionally withholding funding.
The report says although there is evidence that the court buildings are dilapidated and that High Court judges’ salaries are generally low, that is not enough evidence that the government is manipulating the judiciary by withholding funds.
The statement is contained in a report released by the ICJ last Wednesday.
The statement rebuffs claims by some judges who were interviewed accusing the government of manipulation.
“In sum, while it would be reasonable to conclude that the government is under-funding the judiciary and underpaying High Court judges, there is no direct evidence to suggest this is a deliberate or intentional strategy,” reads part of the report.
The report says many interviewees, within and outside the judiciary, claimed the courts were being starved of resources.
The report quotes one judge as saying “judges don’t make a lot of noise about this and in the process a lot of things are compromised”.
“The government does not seem to really take it (budget) seriously although it is a very serious aspect of judicial independence,” the report quotes the judge.
“Besides the budgetary aspect, there is an inability to provide what is already there in the regulations and statutes. But besides that some in our government, like in most African governments, interfere directly.”
The report refers to another interviewee who complained that judges had not received fringe benefits since 2006.
Another claimed that the judges knew the withholding of funds was intentional because people had told them that this was the case.
“The government, they are the ones who pay our salaries, the ones who give us our benefits, and for quite some time now they have been sidelining us,” said a judge who was interviewed.
“You find them discriminating against us. Because Lesotho is so small you do hear them saying ‘we are going to fix them’ because we refuse to do their bidding.”
The report says judges felt they were being punished because they opposed the government when it wanted to have its own person representing it in the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).
The MPs and ministers increased their salaries by 80 percent while judges got a small 1.8 percent.
“They really discriminate against us,” said a judge.
“The executive wanted to get a seat on the Judicial Service Commission,” said a judge, adding: “We sat down as judges and the (Chief Justice), we discussed it.”
“We told them we didn’t want you represented. Attorney General is de facto member of JSC. They wanted a minister there. (They) also want(ed) a Minister of Justice. For us we thought it was not wise.”
The judge said they knew that “the minute we allow someone from the executive, we knew that the independence of the judiciary was at stake”.
“The principal secretary told us that the Prime Minister needs to know who is being appointed to the bench, he doesn’t want to wake up and find out that so and so has been appointed as a judge when he has paid for that person with his money,” the judge said.
“We said we would sue them if they tried, so they backed off. They said, let them have that way, but we will show them.”
That was followed by the hefty salary increments for ministers that left judges unhappy.

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