Judge says Khama did not interfere with judicial independence
The State President, Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama has been vindicated in his actions of suspending the four judges of the High court and appointing a tribunal to investigate them for alleged misconduct and theft of state money.
At the beginning of this week, the Lobatse High court ruled that in appointing the Tribunal and subsequently suspending the judges, Khama acted in accordance with the provisions of the constitution and did not in any way interfere with the judicial independence.
“The first respondent (Khama) invoked the provisions of section 97 of the constitution to appoint a Tribunal to determine the alleged misbehaviour of the Applicants (Judges). He then suspended the applicants pending an investigation into their fitness to hold office. The Judges are alleged to have undermined the authority of the Chief Justice and acted in a manner that was damaging to the Judiciary by addressing his conduct against them and for having signed a petition addressed to the JSC seeking the Chief Justice’s impeachment,” Judge Tebogo Tau ruled.
Last Month, Khama suspended Key Dingake, Seabelo Letsididi, Mercy Garekwe and Ranier Busang from office following findings by an internal audit that the four Judges have been receiving housing allowances that they were not entitled to amounting to close to P1 Million cumulative.
After that, the Chief Justice, Maruping Dibotelo reported them to the Police allegedly at the advice of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). The Judges are said to have written a strong worded letter to Dibotelo and a petition to the JSC seeking Dibotelo’s impeachment.
The letter and the petition which was signed by many other Judges, according to information before court, were prompted by letters sent by the Chief Justice which informed the Judges of their offences.
However, the President did not take kindly to the Judges actions and viewed it as serious misconduct and therefore suspended them. The Judges took the matter to court in an effort to stop the Tribunal and to defend their images. Their contention was that what the President relied on to make a decision was not sufficiently serious to warrant a Tribunal investigation and to suspend them.
However Justice Tau maintains that, even though common sense dictates that a Judge’s reputation would be tainted by the allegations of serious misconduct, in terms of Botswana constitution, impeachment is entirely dependent on the findings of a Tribunal which is appointed to enquire into the allegations.
“A Tribunal appointed by the President to investigate the question of a judge’s removal from office consists of former judges and it is significant that their recommendation is binding on the President,” Judge Tau further pointed out.
She further added that, given that the Judges’ reputation has already been somewhat tarnished by the wide publication the only way to salvage their reputation is for them to successfully, refute the allegations before the Tribunal.
“Judicial independence is crucial to the courts for the fulfilment of their constitutional role. What is important is that the judiciary shall function independently from the Legislature and the Executive. Because the judiciary plays a pivotal role in enforcement of the supreme law of the land, judges occupy a special position in our society which is recognised by the constitution. A Judge remains a judge until he or she resigns or retires or is removed from office in accordance with the provisions of section 97,” Judge Tau stated.
The said section according to her prohibits the President from removing a Judge from office before first referring the matter he believes to constitute a misconduct to a Tribunal consisting of Judges. The allegations have to be investigated by the Tribunal before the President can dismiss a Judge from office.
The suspended Judges however were of the view that the decision by the President to suspend affording them a right to be heard first was wrong. But Justice Tau is of the view that Khama’s action was justified because, “looking at the subject matter of this case, the nature of the inquiry, the integrity of the judiciary and the interests of the public as well as the provisions of the constitution, this is not a case which requires the applicants to be heard before the decision by the President to appoint a tribunal.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Lemogang Kwape says Botswana has not taken any position regarding the killing of a renowned human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, who was gunned down at his house in Mbabane, Eswatini.
In a brief interview with WeekendPost, Dr Kwape said Botswana has not yet taken any position regarding his death. He said the purported incident should be thoroughly probed before Botswana can form an opinion based on the findings of the inquiries.
“Botswana generally condemns any killing of human life by all means,” says Dr. Kwape. He wouldn’t want to be dragged on whether Botswana will support the suspension of Eswatini from SADC.
“We will be guided by SADC organ Troika if they can be an emergency meeting. I am not sure when the meeting will be called by Namibian president,“ he said.
However, the Namibian president Hage Geingob notes with deep concern reports coming out of Eswatini about the killing of Mr. Maseko. In a statement, he called upon the “Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini to ensure that the killing of Maseko is swiftly, transparently and comprehensively investigated, and that any or all persons suspected of committing this heinous crime are brought to justice.”
Maseko was chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum which was established as a coalition of non-State actors to advocate for a process of national political dialogue aimed at resolving the security and political challenges confronting the Kingdom.
“SADC expresses its deepest and heartfelt condolences to the family of Mr. Maseko, his friends, colleagues, and to the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini for the loss of Mr. Maseko. In this context, SADC further calls upon the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini to remain calm, exercise due care and consideration whilst the appropriate structures conduct the investigations and bring the matter to completion,” the statement says.
Geingob reiterated the need for peaceful resolution of the political and security challenges affecting the country.
Meanwhile political activists are calling on SADC to suspend Eswatini from the block including the African Union as well.
State prosecutor, Seeletso Ookeditse revealed before the Broadhurst Magistrate Jobbie Moilatshimo that the third accused involved in the murder of Barulaganye Aston, has interfered with the State witnesses again.
The second and third accused (Lefty Kosie and Outlwile Aston) were previously accused of interference when they were caught in possession of cellphones in prison. They were further accused of planning to kill the deceased’s brother, who is currently the guardian to the children of the deceased.
Ookeditse indicated that Outlwile had earlier went to challenge the magistrate’s decision of denying him bail at the High Court before Judge Michael Motlhabi.
“The third accused approached the High Court and made a bail application, which was dismissed on the same day,” Ookeditse said.
However, even after the High Court verdict on their bail application, the duo (Kosie and Aston) has once again applied for bail this week.
Ookeditse plead with the court to stop the accused from abusing the court process.
“Yesterday, Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) received papers of his bail application filed before the Broadhurst Magistrates Court. However, the papers do not speak to changed circumstances, therefore this back and forth about bail must be put to a stop,” said the State prosecutor.
While giving evidence before court, the Investigations Officer, Detective Inspector Quite Zhalamonto, said his investigations have proved that there is interference continuing regarding the accused trio.
He told the court that on the 12th of January 2023, he received a report from Thato Aston, who is the son of the accused and the deceased. The son had alleged to the Investigation Officer that he received a call from one Phillip Molwantwa.
According to Zhalamonto, Thato revealed that Molwatwa indicated that he was from prison on a visit to the Outlwile Aston and went on to ask where he was staying and where his siblings (Aston’s children) are staying.
“Thato revealed that Phillip went on to ask if he or his siblings saw their father murdering their mother, and he was referring to the crime scene. Thato told me that he, however, refused to answer the questions as he was afraid especially because he was asked about where him and his siblings stay,” said Zhalamonto.
Zhalamonto alluded to the court that he then went to Orange to confirm the communication between Thato and Molwantwa where he found the case.
“I have arrested Philip yesterday and when I interviewed him, he did not deny that he knows Aston and that he has indeed called Thato and asked questions as to where him and his siblings resides even though he failed to give reasons for asking such questions,” Zhalamonto told the court.
He further revealed that Molwantwa indicated that he had received a call from an unknown man who refused to reveal himself.
“Phillip told me that the unknown man said he was sent by the accused (Aston), and that Aston had instructed him to tell me to check if there was still some money in his bank accounts, and he also wanted to know where the kids were residing, the unknown man even asked him to meet at Main Mall” the Investigation Officer told the court.
He further informed the court that he is working tirelessly to identify the “unknown caller” and the route of the cell number.
Furthermore, the fourth accused, Kebaleboge Ntsebe, has revealed to the court through a letter that she was abused and tortured by the Botswana Police Services. She wrote in her letter that she suffered miscarriage as a result of being beaten by the police.
Ntsebe is on bail, while a bail ruling for Aston and Kosie will be delivered on the 6th of next month
Cattle farmers from Eretsha and Habu in the Ngamiland district, supported by the Community Based Trade (CBT) project, recently generated over P300 000.00 for sales of 42 cattle to the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) in Maun. This milestone was achieved through support from various stakeholders in conservation, commodity-based trade and the government, in collaboration with farmers. Ordinarily, these farmers would not have made this direct sale since the area is a designated Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) Red Zone.
Traditional livestock farming contributes toward livelihoods and formal employment in the North-West District (Ngamiland) of Botswana. However, primarily due to the increase in FMD outbreaks over the past two decades and predation by wildlife, the viability of livestock agriculture as a source of income has declined in the region. This has led to a greater risk of poverty and food insecurity. Access across the Okavango River (prior to the construction of a bridge) restricted access for farmers in Eretsha. This lack of access hampered sales of cattle beyond Shakawe, further discouraging farmers from investing in proper livestock management practices. This resulted in negative environmental impacts, poor livestock health and productivity.
To address this challenge, farmers are working with a consortium led by Conservation International (CI), with funding secured from the European Union (EU) to pilot a CBT beef project. The project focuses on supporting and enabling communal farmers to comply with standards and regulations that will improve their chances to access markets. An opportunity to earn higher income from cattle sales could incentivize the adoption of restorative rangelands management practices by farmers.
“We spend a lot of money getting our cattle to Makalamabedi quarantine site, the herder spends on average two months taking care of the cattle before they are taken into quarantine – that needs money. All these costs lead to us getting less money from BMC,” said one of the farmers in the programme, Mr Monnaleso Mosanga.
Farmers that participate in the project agree for their cattle to be herded and kraaled communally by fulltime professional herders (eco-rangers). At the core of this pilot is the use of predator-proof bomas (cattle kraals), planned grazing systems and mobile quarantine bomas (electrified enclosures) for the cattle, facilitated in support with the Department of Veterinary Services. The first successful exit from the mobile quarantine bomas in the Habu and Eretsha villages, in December 2022, saw cattle quarantined on-site and directly transported to BMC in Maun. Farmers received almost double the average sales within this region, as costs including transportation to quarantine sites, herder’s fees and other associated costs incurred before qualifying for BMC sales were no longer included.
“This pilot mobile quarantine is leveraging the techniques and protocols we are using at our current permanent quarantine sites, and we are still observing the results of the project. The outcome of this pilot will be presented to the World Organisation of Animal Health to assess its effectiveness and potentially be approved to be used elsewhere,” said Dr Odireleng Thololwane, the Principal Veterinary Officer (Maun).