Four Judges of the Lobatse High Court have been suspended from the bench pending determination for misconduct by a tribunal which has been set up by the Republic’s President, Ian Khama Seretse Khama following allegations that the four judges undermined the Chief Justice, Maruping Dibotelo.
President Khama yesterday suspended Justice Key Dingake, Justice Modiri Letsididi, Justice Mercy Garekwe and Justice Ranier Busang for undermining the Chief Justice and bringing the judiciary into disrepute.
Khama suspended the quartet for challenging Justice Dibotelo's move to report them to the Police for receiving housing allowances while staying in official residences.
The four judges have since attacked the Chief Justice, saying his actions are highly questionable and amount to harassment and witch-hunting. They have threatened to take legal action against him for defamation.
The latest development come just a few days after the chief Justice Dibotelo reported the four judges to the police for receiving money which was wrongfully paid to them.
The judges are said to have received a combined total of around P800 000 which was paid to them even though they were accommodated in official residences. Judges are provided with free furnished residential accommodation allowance of about P6, 545.45 per month where there is no official residence provided. The allowance is paid only to those without such priviledges.
However the four who are said to have admitted to have received the monies have explained that they were not aware that the allowance were paid to them and had promised to pay it back.
Nonetheless, after Dibotelo reported them to the Police, they threatened to impeach him, an action which was viewed as undermining the chief justice. The four, together with eight other judges are said to have penned a strong worded letter to the chief justice and informed him of their intention to sue him.
This was not withstanding the fact that the Judicial Service Commission as a whole had owned up to Dibotelo’s actions. The JSC Secretary, Motlhabi had explained that, “the decision to refer the issue of wrongful payment and receipt of housing allowance for an independent investigation, was that of the Judicial Service Commission as a whole, taken unanimously in good faith after a lengthy and searching debate. It was not, as suggested, a decision taken by the Chief Justice alone.”
Motlhabi had also 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.”
It is an open secret that President Khama would disqualify a Judge on the basis of integrity and public perceptions. In court papers filed on a different matter before the Gaborone High Court, Khama has indicated that, “First in appointing judges, I take into account a broad range of material considerations, including matters of national security, the socio-political situation in Botswana, public perception of the relevant candidate and the judiciary and questions of policy. All of these involve information to which the JSC does not necessarily have access and which the JSC would, in the normal function of its functions, not be properly equipped or mandated to evaluate.”
The country’s judges are appointed by the President at the recommendations of the Judicial Service Commission. It is the President who also has the power to dismiss judges from office.
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.