Leader of Opposition Duma Boko has called on government officials to listen to their legal advisers after losing a number of cases at the courts of law, which comes as a cost to the tax payers. Debating the budget proposal for financial year 2017/2018 for the Administration of Justice, Boko said that it has now become a trend for government officials to go against the advice of government legal advisors. Boko – a legal expert – said that on several occasions, government attorneys have told the courts that they have advised officials but were ignored. “So, you must advise these people that when they receive legal advice from the Attorney General’s Chambers, they must take it, they are not lawyers and experts. So, if they are told to settle cases, they must do exactly that,” he said, adding that is one of the reasons government is losing a lot of money in heavy legal costs. He cited the case in which government has been instructed to pay farmers whose cattle were killed due to Foot and Mouth in Zone 6. The High Court pronounced that the Presidential Directive that ordered the slaughter of cattle in Zone 6 was unconstitutional and unlawful. The compensation of P1700.00 offered for each beast slaughtered in terms of Section 14 of the Diseases of Animals Act is also unconstitutional and unlawful. In 2011 the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) killed cattle in Zone 6 and compensated farmers P1700 per beast regardless of the breed and value of the animal. A total of 48 farmers approached the High Court demanding over P9 million for their 1800 cattle that were culled. Some of their cattle, they argue, were expensive breeds and they approached Boko to challenge the killing at the court of law.
Another issue that he said is worrying is public officers who defy court orders with the result that some of them have had to be threatened with imprisonment. In December last year there was drama when the High Court Judge Justice Zein Kebonang issued a warrant of arrest against the Commander of Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Lieutenant General Placid Segokgo after he was found to be in contempt of court for failure to comply with a judgment to reinstate two BDF officers who were dismissed from work. Kebonang instructed the police to arrest and detain BDF commander with immediate effect for a period of 30 days. General Segokgo failed to comply with court order of 18 November 2016 which ordered the reinstatement of the two BDF officers Thabang Tlhapisang and her boyfriend Kozondu Uariaua who were dismissed from work for failure to comply with BDF policy of Fraternization Act. Advocate Boko, who represented the two, approached the court after the BDF refused to comply with court order. “The Commander refused to comply and made it clear that they are not going to comply with the court order and promised to appeal the decision,” said Boko. Segokgo was forced to reinstate the two immediately to avoid spending festive season in jail and embarrassing government. “These are matters over which the Attorney General should and I suspect did advise and that advice was disregarded,” advised Boko. Boko, who is also Member of Parliament for Gaborone Bonnington North, also raised a concern that the judiciary is a crisis because when judges take certain administrative issues and complain, they are victimised. “The long drawn process is currently underway which is discriminatory to the extent that it excludes some of the Judges who have signed that petition which is a subject of the proceedings and also some who had received allowances were not included in the list of those to be punished if there is any punishment due,” referring to the case of the four judges who are currently suspended.
Warning to magistrates
Magistrates did not escape Boko’s onslaught as he accused them of thinking they are laws unto themselves. “Lastly, please tell your Magistrates wherever they may be that they are not the law unto themselves,” hit out Boko, accusing them of allowing accused persons to appear in the courts in chains and leg irons and sit in the dock through a trial in that state. He said when some lawyers questioned the gross violations of the accused’s constitutional rights they were detained.
“Advise these people that they must abide by the laws and the Constitution,” he cautioned.
Sign language in courts
The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi called for the introduction of sign language in the courts of law. “We do not have sign language as a matter of course in our courts. Sign language does not exist in all our courts as a matter of course,” she appealed, adding that it is making justice unreachable for a lot of people. The MP for Selibe Phikwe West Dithapelo Keorapetse lamented that the independence of the judiciary has diminished. He said that the judiciary has lost integrity and now lacks public confidence as all the judges are appointed by the President. He said it is high time locals are appointed judges at the Court of Appeal as it is mostly composed by whites.
“I do not know whether it is by coincidence or it is by design, we have five or six Court of Appeal Judges as white old male: no females and very few Batswana, ” hit out the Phikwe West MP, adding that it is too racist. According to Keorapetse, this is a clear indication that the judiciary has been captured by the president. “He is the reason why we are having this mess at the Judiciary; it has never happened in the history of this country that a President has refused four (4) names recommended by the JSC,” said Keorapetse. The Minister of Basic Education Dr Unity Dow defended the independence of the judiciary, saying that it is not controlled by the executive. Dow, a former judge of the High Court, indicated that one of the reasons Botswana is highly rated is because judges are able to make the kind of decisions that we do not see in other jurisdictions. Dow called on the responsible ministry to remove police officers from being prosecutors. “I really think 50 years of independence is high time that prosecution really is moved to Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) completely and the police are allowed to do their work; which is really to police and indeed collect evidence and that we do not fuse these two particular duties,” she insisted.