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Lawyers, Khama clash over judges appointments

UP IN ARMS: Law Society of Botswana members

The expected appointment of Dr Zein Kebonang as the acting judge of the High Court of Botswana has raised fresh concerns over the independence, credibility and integrity of the country’s judiciary and caused unrest within the legal fraternity.


The Law Society of Botswana (LSB) in particular has expressed great concern over the matter and made it known that they would be challenging Kebonang’s appointment through the High Court as they believe the appointment was unconstitutional and irregular.


Speaking during this week’s media briefing in Gaborone on Wednesday evening, the deputy chairperson of the LSB, Kgalalelo Monthe revealed that their attorneys have started working on the court papers.


“Yesterday (Tuesday), the LSB on the advice of its attorneys decided to review its position in so far as procedure is concerned. Instead of moving an urgent application to interdict the acting appointment of Dr Kebonang or any other person so appointed, the LSB has decided to move an application in the normal cause so that it focuses its energies on the more important move, which is a substantive application which will be launched once the statutory notices expire,” Monthe explained.


The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) advised President Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama to appoint Kebonang an acting Judge early this week, after he rejected their initial advice to appoint Anthony Motumise as the judge of the same court last week. Motumise is a senior lawyer with a private law firm.


Although the President allegedly did not give any reasons for rejecting Motumise, the JSC went on to appoint Kebonang, who is believed to be pro ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and allegedly has not been actively practicing law for some time now. In 2010, Kebonang who is a twin Brother to Sadique Kebonang who sits in President Khama’s cabinet was roped into the BDP intellectual team, a think tank that was set up to draw the party media game plan and clean up the party’s image.


The then Minister of Educations and Skills Development, currently that of Foreign Affairs Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi who was masterminding the strategy had revealed that the BDP had roped in “friends of the BDP.”
Kebonang has also written a number of newspaper commentaries in support of the BDP and President Khama.


However at the time of going to print, the President was yet to officially declare the appointment of Kebonang as the acting judge and the LSB were still working on the court papers which would cite the President and the JSC as respondents.
“JSC would be sued as a party because they succumbed to the President’s decision. The JSC and the President appear to be singing the same note,” explained Dick Bayford who is leading the legal team in this case.


Bayford suggested that, they would therefore request the Chief Justice and the President of the court of Appeal to recuse themselves from the next appointment exercise as they are seemingly conflicted.


The Chief Justice and the President of the Court of Appeal are directly appointed by the President. Other Judges are suggested by the JSC and the President’s powers in the appointment are very limited as he has to act according to advice by the commission.


“The President is entitled to make his own judgment. The constitution states that he is not required to take advice from anyone unless otherwise provided for by the constitution. Why would the framers of the constitution make that deliberate provision? That is why we say he has no right to reject the advice of the JSC,” added one of the legal team members, Osego Garebamono.


It may take months before the case is finally argued in court, but the legal team is optimistic that the end results would have consequential results on the future appointments of judges. According to Tshiamo Rantao, of Rantao Kewagamang Attorneys will be handling the case, the court declaration “would have consequential relief and will be binding to the President and future Presidents.”


The background of the conflict is that in March 2015, the LSB was informed that there would be a meeting of the JSC on Friday 20, March, 2015. The notice that President Khama had rejected the recommendation of the JSC to appoint Motumise as judge of the High court was the agenda.


Two days before the meeting, Rantao issued a statutory notice to JSC, President Khama and the Attorney General of their intention to oppose the action through court proceedings. The application would be for an order amongst others, 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. The position of the LSB is that the President has no discretion and therefore must appoint in accordance with such an advice.


The statutory notice further recommended that the JSC should not recommend to the President any other name for appointment, whether in an acting or full-time capacity pending the court proceedings. However on Monday, the JSC went ahead and recommended Zein Kebonang for appointment as acting judge.


On Wednesday, 25th March, 2015, Rantao issued yet another statutory notice to indicate that the acting appointment will be challenged at the High court as being unconstitutional.


The case would require interpretation of the constitution and the court filing is expected to commence around the 25th, April, 2015.  


The case comes a few months after the LSB had another raw with the chief Justice over allegations that some attorneys were in the habit of forum shopping whereby they would take their cases to the judges who would give them the “right” judgment.

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