- Their contracts expire in four months
- Chief Justice fighting in the corner of disadvantaged judges
- Says he needs four judges – claims there is too much workload
- Impending vacancies advertisement may only be a formality
Three acting judges, Justice Kabelo Lebotse of Lobatse High Court, Gaborone High Court Judge, Justice Boipuso Tshweneyagae and Lobatse High Court Judge Jennifer Dube who replaced the then four suspended judges- ‘s contracts expires in December and already the trio have called the Chief Justice, Maruping Dibotelo to make a commitment on their future before the expiration of their term in office.
Dibotelo who recently made an undertaking to advocate for judges welfare now finds himself caught between his masters and his loyal servants and sources say the issue is giving Dibotelo sleepless nights as he is struggling to trust Khama on the issue.
The three acting judges were recruited as temporary replacements for justices Key Dingake, Modiri Letsididi, Mercy Gaarekwe and Rainer Busang who were at the time suspended by the President on accusations of revolting against Chief Justice Dibotelo.
In March this year, President Ian Khama agreed to lift the suspensions against the four judges after they tendered an apology to him. Of the four suspended judges, only Garekwe resumed duty due to the substantive appointment of Justice Radijeng, who was initially given an acting appointment to fill the shortage of judges left by the suspensions. Radijeng was confirmed following the retirement of Walia J.
Despite all these, it appears the scandal that rocked the judiciary due to Khama’s suspension of the four judges has now come back to haunt both the Executive and the Judiciary. In an effort to pave way for the acting judges employment, Dibotelo at this year’s Judicial Conference said that he needs four judges citing too much workload.
“I wish to state that we have observed through analysis of our statistics that the workload at the High Court has tremendously increased particularly in Gaborone. We have made representations to Government for the increase in the compliment of Judges of the High Court by four from 23 to 27. I am pleased to report that Government acceded to the request. The implementation is only subject to the availability of funds. The implementation in tandem with our reforms will go a long way in expediting the disposal of cases,” he revealed in a speech that was littered with attacks to the government’s underfunding of the judiciary.
Expressing his frustrations on underfunding, Dibotelo said “what is of frustration is that we have been harping on this issue like a mantra at gathering of this nature. What is rather unfortunate and disturbing is that some delegates including some Judges have taken to criticizing the Judiciary instead of assisting us and agitating at a platform of this nature for the resources which we all require to move our reforms to the envisaged levels,” he charged.
The call for the creation of the new positions,it is understood, seeks to address the concerns raised by the acting appointees who will fall into the unemployed statistics in December. Before joining the judiciary on a temporary basis, the trio were full-time employees at different organisations. Lebotse was a legal advisor at Public Enterprises Evaluation and Privatisation Agency (PEEPA), Dube was with Botswana Development Cooperation (BDC) while Tshweneyagae was with Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA).
At the time of their temporary appointments, there were various other lawyers who were head-hunted but declined the offer on the basis that they want to be appointed in a substantive capacity.
Those within the legal community view the creation of four substantive posts demands by Dibotelo as a ploy to accommodate the three current acting judges. Sources within the administration of justice say an impending advert is likely to be just a formality as the system will still retain the three acting judges but this time on a substantive capacity.
Attorneys however warn that the mechanisms to be used are highly likely to raise questions and ignite anger as many lawyers will apply for the posts only to learn that it was a strategy to confirm the acting judges.
“It is highly likely that there will be an advertisement but it will look dirty when it turns out that it was just a ploy to confirm the acting judges who have already conveyed their desires and expectations to the chief justice,” disclosed our source who said that the vacancy will undoubtedly attract large numbers of lawyers who are already feeling the pinch of the private sector challenges.
Critics say that if there was workload as claimed by CJ, he would have long advised Khama to appoint Motumise to ease the workload.
Members of the legal fraternity warn that confirmation of the acting trio who were desk officers prior to joining the judiciary will negatively impact on Botswana’s legal standards. “CJ knows that these judges were not appointed on merit so sanity needs to prevail,” warned a senior local attorney.
Sources within the administration of justice say that Dibotelo finds himself on a back foot, wanting to reward the judges who came to his rescue during his ego battles with his fellows judges. The matter is so serious that Dibotelo is furious at the pace at which the government is taking to approve and fund his request which is now racing against the December deadline.
The registrar of the High Court, Michael Mothobi did not take this publication’s calls on Monday before going to press.