Former Vice Chancellor of the University of Botswana (UB), Professor Bojosi Otlhogile has stated that Botswana’s model of selection of High Court and Court of Appeal Judges leaves a lot to be desired.
According to the Professor of Law, it matters “who our judges are” and that “it follows then that how they are selected and who selects them matters”. Judges are selected by a sitting president – in this case by the incumbent President Lt. Gen. Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama in accordance with the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) as per section 96 (2) of the Botswana constitution. The said section states that “the other judges of the High Court shall be appointed by the President, acting in accordance with the advice of the JSC.”
The said section of the constitution <96 (2)>has attracted a sharp contrast and has been a subject of scrutiny and interpretation by the Court of Appeal panel recently in a matter in which Law Society of Botswana (LSB) was appealing a case in which they were querying the rejection of Senior Counsel Omphemetse Motumise by Khama despite being recommended by the JSC to be a High Court Judge.
A draft academic research paper by Professor Otlhogile seen by Weekend Post this week titled “selecting Judges: constitution, power and accountability,” to be published soon, the law guru takes swipe at the Court of Appeal Judges saying they have, in their judgement, explained the interpretation of the contentious section in such a simple way that it is no longer correct or true.
According to the said judgement, the Court of Appeal Judges; Justices Isaac Lesetedi, Monametsi Gaongalelwe, Lord Hamilton, Jacobus Brand, Alistair Abernethy said in a ruling read by Lesetedi that a conclusion in the main judgement that in the absence of an explanation by the President, in rejecting Motumise, his decision stands to be reviewed and set aside.
“For that reason therefore this ground of appeal is upheld and the President’s refusal to act on the recommendation of the JSC for the appointment of 2nd appellant (Motumise) as a Judge of the High Court is set aside,” all the Judges stated in the conclusion of the final judgement, although they had 4 separate judgement for the first time in the history of Botswana.
While they were all in agreement, Justice Gaongalelwe differed with them only on the proper interpretation of phrase in section 96.2 that “shall be appointed by the President acting in accordance with the advice of the JSC.” He said it depends in the regime of a particular country and the context in light of other provisions of the constitution. “I am in agreement with the conclusion of the court a quo that in this matter the phrase simply means that the president is not to appoint a person who has not been recommended by the JSC,” Gaongalelwe stated.
In light of the judgement, the ex-UB Vice Chancellor, who is also a Professor of Law in the highest institution of learning’s Law department, in his academic paper said that we have to accept that views may differ about the answer to many legal cases, and that it is comparatively rare for judges who heard a case to reach conclusion for the same reason.
Therefore, “I conclude by arguing that the majority decision of the Court of Appeal (judges) may have oversimplified an otherwise vexed question of the interpretation of the provision of the Constitution,” he stated in the research paper to be released soon. He continued to point out that in the case of Botswana, part VI of the Constitution section 96 and 101 on Chief Justice (CJ) and Judge President (JP), respectively, are crystal clear and not ambiguous on their selection (appointment). Section 96 (1) states that “the Chief Justice shall be appointed by the President.”
The Law Professor stated that the duo (JP and CJ) there is “no dispute appointed by the President.” But when it comes to other judges he said, consider other judges, the distinction is blurred with regard to the section 96 (2). In light of the contentious section Otlhogile pointed out that “section 96 (2) – made three changes -i.e. CJ is replaced by other judges of the High Court. It introduced a comma in the place of a full stop and it extended the sentence.”
The professor had many questions that he promised to address in the upcoming academic paper including “why is it (section 96 (2) not conveying same meaning that the President appoints? Justice Lesetedi says turns around “shall” and “appoint.” Shall be appointed by the President – no other? Is the comma syndeton or asyndeton? Is the President bound by the recommendation or does he have discretion? Bound but has limited discretion – exceptions where he is not bound? Fear where exceptions longer the principle.”
The UB lecturer continued to punch holes on the Motumise CoA judgement (which was led and read by Justice Lesetedi): “Lesetedi’s handling of JSC – does he refer to it as one body or collection of individuals?” he wondered. In terms of the issue of national security, he asked whether it is shared in confidence while wondering whether a secret shared with 6 people (in JSC) is still a secret. Otlhogile stated that Khama’s role (rise of presidency) in the selection of judges is both Executive and Ceremonial in his judgement.
According to the UB Professor of Law; with regard to History of Constitutional conference he agrees with reference to it but have different meaning and order of events. “Is the task of the court to decide what the framers meant/intended or what the section means? If the latter, no place for history.” He also submitted that the “Legislative history can help us to determine whether the difficulty in applying the section results from an unfortunate choice of statutory language chosen to effectuate a legislative goal that becomes clearer once one investigates the matter.”
Since independence he said Botswana has followed two models in selection of judges which are ‘tap on the shoulder’ until recently when move to variant of so called ‘merit-based system.’ The Professor said early years the appointment based on provisions of the Constitution – relied largely on expatriates – colonial officers – United Kingdom (UK) process with regard to the tap on the shoulder. He highlighted that, following into lately Motumise matter, the first case when a recommendation by JSC was rejected by a President was under Sir Seretse Khama’s (the father of the incumbent).
“May be this was the first case of rejection of JSC advice (under) President Sir Seretse Khama (who did not give) JSC reasons for declining (the JSC recommendation) including the very basis for appointment – to reconsider.” He said to add salt to injury some sources were in the habit of discounting others and gave an example that a certain candidate for the Judgeship was said had taken to drinking too much, in which he was declined (on that basis) – but allegations which later were found unfounded.
This he said therefore turned out to be unfair to the potential Judge rejected despite the recommendation by the JSC. Currently, the JSC is composed of the Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo (Chairman); the President of the Court of Appeal Justice Ian Stuart Kirby; the Attorney-General Abraham Keetshabe; the Chairman of the Public Service Commission; and a member of the Law Society nominated by the Law Society; as well as a person of integrity and experience not being a legal practitioner appointed by President Khama.
Government is currently sitting on 4 400 vacant posts that remain unfilled in the civil service. This is notwithstanding the high unemployment rate in Botswana which has been exacerbated by the recent outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Just before the burst of COVID-19, official data released by Statistics Botswana in January 2020, indicate that unemployment in Botswana has increased from 17.6 percent three years ago to 20.7 percent. “Unemployment rate went up by 3.1 percentage between the two periods, from 17.6 to 20.7 percent,” statistics point out.
Leading commercial bank, First National Bank Botswana (FNBB), expects the central bank to sharpen its monetary policy knife and cut the Bank Rate twice in the last quarter of 2020.
The bank expects a 25 basis point (bps) in the beginning of the last quarter, which is next month, and another shed by the same bps in December, making a total of 50 bps cut in the last quarter. According to the bank’s researchers, the central bank is now holding on to 4.25 percent for the time being pending for more informed data on the economic climate.
An audit of the accounts and records for the supply of food rations to the institutions in the Northern Region for the financial year-ended 31 March 2019 was carried out. According to Auditor General’s report and observations, there are weaknesses and shortcomings that were somehow addressed to the Accounting Officer for comments.
Auditor General, Pulane Letebele indicated on the report that, across all depots in the region that there had been instances where food items were short for periods ranging from 1 to 7 months in the institutions for a variety of reasons, including absence of regular contracts and supplier failures. The success of this programme is dependent on regular and reliable availability of the supplies to achieve its objective, the report said.
There would be instances where food items were returned from the feeding centers to the depots for reasons of spoilage or any other cause. In these cases, instances had been noted where these returns were not supported by any documentation, which could lead to these items being lost without trace.
The report further stressed that large quantities of various food items valued at over P772 thousand from different depots were damaged by rodents, and written off.Included in the write off were 13 538 (340ml) cartons of milk valued at P75 745. In this connection, the Auditor General says it is important that the warehouses be maintained to a standard where they would not be infested by rodents and other pests.
Still in the Northern region, the report noted that there is an outstanding matter relating to the supply of stewed steak (283×3.1kg cans) to the Maun depot which was allegedly defective. The steak had been supplied by Botswana Meat Commission to the depot in November 2016.
In March 2017 part of the consignment was reported to the supplier as defective, and was to be replaced. Even as there was no agreement reached between the parties regarding replacement, in 51 October 2018 the items in question were disposed of by destruction. This disposal represented a loss as the whole consignment had been paid for, according to the report.
“In my view, the loss resulted directly from failure by the depot managers to deal with the matter immediately upon receipt of the consignment and detection of the defects. Audit inspections during visits to Selibe Phikwe, Maun, Shakawe, Ghanzi and Francistown depots had raised a number of observations on points of detail related to the maintenance of records, reconciliations of stocks and related matters, which I drew to the attention of the Accounting Officer for comments,” Letebele said in her report.
In the Southern region, a scrutiny of the records for the control of stocks of food items in the Southern Region had indicated intermittent shortages of the various items, principally Tsabana, Malutu, Sunflower Oil and Milk which was mainly due to absence of subsisting contracts for the supply of these items.
“The contract for the supply of Tsabana to all depots expired in September 2018 and was not replaced by a substantive contract. The supplier contracts for these stocks should be so managed that the expiry of one contract is immediately followed by the commencement of the next.”
Suppliers who had been contracted to supply foodstuffs had failed to do so and no timely action had been taken to redress the situation to ensure continuity of supply of the food items, the report noted.
In one case, the report highlighted that the supplier was to manufacture and supply 1 136 metric tonnes of Malutu for a 4-months period from March 2019 to June 2019, but had been unable to honour the obligation. The situation was relieved by inter-depot transfers, at additional cost in transportation and subsistence expenses.
In another case, the contract was for the supply of Sunflower Oil to Mabutsane, where the supplier had also failed to deliver. Examination of the Molepolole depot Food Issues Register had indicated a number of instances where food items consigned to the various feeding centres had been returned for a variety of reasons, including food item available; no storage space; and in other cases the whole consignments were returned, and reasons not stated.
This is an indication of lack of proper management and monitoring of the affairs of the depot, which could result in losses from frequent movements of the food items concerned.The maintenance of accounting records in the region, typically in Letlhakeng, Tsabong, and Mabutsane was less than satisfactory, according to Auditor General’s report.
In these depots a number of instances had been noted where receipts and issues had not been recorded over long periods, resulting in incorrect balances reflected in the accounting records. This is a serious weakness which could lead to or result in losses without trace or detection, and is a contravention of Supplies Regulations and Procedures, Letebele said.
Similarly, consignments of a total of 892 bags of Malutu and 3 bags of beans from Tsabong depot to different feeding centres had not been received in those centres, and are considered lost. These are also not reflected in the Statement of Losses in the Annual Statements of Accounts for the same periods.