• P800 000 allowances paid to judges
• Judges threatened Chief Justice
• Law Society calls for calm
Botswana judiciary has been thrown into a crisis as President Ian Khama suspended four judges after their public spat with Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo over the payment of housing allowance.
On Thursday President Khama slapped High Court judges Justice Key Dingake, Justice Modiri Letsididi, Justice Mercy Garekwe and Justice Ranier Busang with suspensions for undermining the Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo and bringing the judiciary into disrepute.
The four judges wrote a letter to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) seeking Justice Dibotelo’s impeachment for reporting them to the police for fraud after allegations that they claimed housing allowance while staying in pool houses. The judges threatened to report him to President Khama who is the appointing authority should the JSC fail to do so. They wanted the Chief Justice impeached. However, Khama moved swiftly to suspend them.
In its defence of Justice Dibotelo, JSC released a press statement absolving him from any blame, insisting that the decision to investigate the judges was a collective one.
“It should be noted that the JSC is charged with protecting the integrity of the Judiciary and of the Administration of Justice. In terms of the internal Audit Report the alleged payments concerned total in excess of P800, 000 and this was considered to be a matter that could not be adequately resolved internally,” reads part of the statement.
The suspension of the four judges will halt the wheels of justice on the cases that were before their courts. Three of the judges are based in Lobatse being Justice Letsididi, Justice Garekwe and Justice Busang.
This is not the first time that judges and chief justice clashed as it happened in 2013 when Justice Dibotelo accused some judges and court officials for forum shopping. This led to judges at Lobatse high Court downing tools demanding an apology from Chief Justice who would later apologise.
Law Society of Botswana has called for sanity to prevail and urged the parties to put their house in order for sake of justice. In an interview, LSW chairman Lawrence Lecha said that it has always a position of LSW that the two warring parties must discuss their issues internally and stop washing their dirty linen in public.
The suspension of the four judges will affect the dispensation of justice since some of the cases they have been handling will now require new judges, forcing hearings to be postponed.
Who are these judges?
The Bobonong-born judge is one of the most highly regarded jurists in Botswana, having delivered historic judgments. Some of the notable cases that he has handled are provision of ARVs to foreign inmates which was upheld by the Court of Appeal last week.
He also presided over the case of LEGABIBO over their registration and ruled in their favour. In 2012, he ordered that all public service workers who were dismissed during the 2011 strike be reinstated. In 2013, United Nations Secretary General Ban Kin Moon appointed Justice Dingake to the roster of judges of the Residual Special Court of Sierra Leone.
The Residual Special Court is an international court that presides over those accused of grave breaches of International Humanitarian Law in Sierra Leone. Last year Justice Dingake was appointed as an Honorary Professor in the Faculty of Public Law at the middle Campus University of Cape Town, South Africa which was effective in January this year. He is being viewed as a liberal judge whose judgments have received international accolades.
Justice Mercy Garekwe
A holder of LL.M from Georgetown University Law Centre, Justice Garekwe was appointed to the bench in 2011 making her one of the few women to ascend to the ladyship. She was part of the Tribunal that investigated whether Justice Onkemetse Tshosa ought to be removed from judicial office for misbehavior. She is currently based in Lobatse.
Justice Modiri Letsididi
Justice Letsididi is well known for dismissing a case in which Sunday Standard Editor Outsa Mokone was charged with sedition last year.
Justice Rainer Busang
Justice Busang is currently presiding over a case in which the family of Olefile Momphitlhi has taken the Botswana Police to court over the disappearance of their son while under their custody. He was a successful private attorney before he was appointed to the bench.