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Khama rejects tribal card in Motumise saga

Motumise, from Kgalagadi, was the most qualified

Latest information suggest that President Lt Gen Ian Khama rejected the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and his trusted lawyer Parks Tafa’s recommendations to appoint Senior Attorney, Omphemetse Motumise to the vacant position of High Court judge because of suggestions in the JSC’s recommendation sheet which spelt out that the President should also consider the tribal imbalances that marred the judiciary as justification for the senior attorney’s appointment.


WeekendPost has established that the JSC had suggested that apart from Motumise being the most qualified for the job, it would also be very important for the President to appoint him to bridge the tribal imbalances in the judiciary.


Motumise, who was born 52 years ago in a village of Lokgwabe – a village of less than 3000 inhabitants, would have been the only judge to come from the Kgalagadi District out of 22 men and women appointwed to the High Court bench. Botswana has 22 judges – eight are based at the Gaborone High Court; seven are in Lobatse; while another seven serves the Francistown High Court.


Khama was unhappy with the tribal justifications and felt that the reference polluted the entire case and could as well be the main reason that fermented Motumise’s recommendation. His reservation was that the tribal reasoning confused him as to whether the JSC considered Motumise on Judicial tribal imbalances or merit. The President is alleged to have said while he didn’t have a problem with Motumise, he was concerned that the JSC recommendation seemed to hinge on the said tribal imbalance at the bench.


A high-ranking source told this publication that Motumise also has a few ancient squabbles with the current regime dating back to his days as a Commissioner of the Independant Electoral Commission (IEC) – an instituion charged with the constitutional mandate of managing, organising and holding free and fair elections in Botswana, which falls under the Office of the President.


Motumise was once deputy Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commision for ten years, often acting as Chairman of the Commission. The BDP, as it has come to be known, has often been accused of controlling the institution while the opposition ascribe the BDP’s dominance to its overly control over the EIC. Motumise is said to have occasionaly rejected a few of the leadership’s proposals.


Khama’s loyal and trusted lawyer, Parks Tafa had painted Motumise with bright colours citing him in his recommendation letter as a man who has ‘exhibited thoroughness, intellect, knowledge of the law, and superior analytical skills in his work.’


Tafa had further said Motumise’s humility and unassuming disposition has earned him wide respect within the legal fraternity. “I believe Motumise is a worthy candidate who would add value to our Administration of justice.”


However even Tafa’s trusted words and counsel could not convince the President who many wondered what he may be up to. Khama reportedly met the JSC twice as an effort to iron out differences following his refusal to endorse Motumise.


The President’s stance angered the legal fraternity and provoked threats of a law suit from the Law Society of Botswana. The office of the President’s Press Secretary, Gobe Pitso did not respond to Weekendpost questions over the issue, neither did the JSC.


The LSB posits that the refusal by the President to appoint Motumise as a judge contravened section 96 (6) of the constitution which makes it mandatory for the President to appoint a judge in accordance with the advice of the JSC. They say the President has no discretion and therefore must appoint in accordance with such an advice.


Following this legal wrangle, Khama appointed the identical twin brother of Assistant Minister of Trade and Industry, Sadique Kebonang – Zein Kebonang as acting judge. LSB has promised to challenge the acting appointment at the high court saying it is or was unconstitutional. The Law Society is yet to file papers.


The cost of acting judge-Zein Kebonang

Legal eagles say Kebonang’s appointment will leave the judiciary with dillemas after the elapse of his acting term.


One of Gaborone’s prominent lawyers, Kgosiitsile Ngakaagage in an interview with this publication opined that Judges’ positions are constitutionally entrenched and a fixed term appointment or acting appointment runs in tandem with the spirit of the constitution.

 “The entrenchment is intended to bolster the Judge's conscious fortitude given the sensitivity of the attendant mandate. A Judge who does not have constitutional protection on account of an acting appointment lacks that advantage constitutionally deemed to be indispensable to the proper discharge of the constitutional mandate,” he said.

Further, Ngakaagage said an acting appointment to a judicial vacancy that may as well be substantively filled, may well, rightly or wrongly, be interpreted to be probationary in nature. That, he said, does not help to bolster confidence in the administration of justice.

Ngakaagae went further to say an active appointment, may however be unavoidable, and perhaps justifiable, in addressing with backlog issues, since the appointees do not assume their mandates with the hope or expectation of being appointed to an existing substantive post.

“Conversely, the long turnaround times pervade the judicial resolution of cases may result in the creation or more backlog and inevitable renewals of acting appointments especially in criminal cases where cases aren't transferrable,” he said.


According to Ngakaagae, it makes no sense to appoint a qualified man to a vacant post on an acting basis when you can as well appoint them on a permanent basis. “You cannot claim to be looking for greater merit than that which commended him to the basis. Whilst the appointee may be sufficient qualified, and fit and proper for the post, the  irrationality, in the absence of a cognizable explanation, may unduly cast doubt on the bona fides of the appointment,” charged Ngakaage who is one of the finest legal brains locally.

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