A politically tainted process

A politically tainted process

THE judiciary was this week plunged into a fresh crisis after two members of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) sat and recommended five individuals for appointment as judges.

The unprecedented move has been roundly condemned by some politicians and sections of the civil society as yet another clear attempt to stuff the bench with pliable characters who would do their bidding.
Of course, we still do not know the identity of the individuals who have been recommended for appointment.

Even if the individuals might be highly qualified and competent, it is the process under which they have been recommended that has raised serious questions in the eyes of Basotho.
In our opinion, these are legitimate concerns.

The howls of protests and bitter complaints are a clear sign that people are not happy with the manner the whole process was handled.
Following the deaths of two judges and the retirement of two others over the last three months, it is clear that Lesotho’s bench has now become extremely thin.

There were already concerns that the bench was seriously understaffed and the recent events have only worsened what was already a very dire situation.
Yet even with the most recent recommendation to appoint five more judges, that would not be enough to resolve the very serious staffing problems within our judiciary.

To close the gap, we have had to recruit judges from our neighbours within SADC, a process that has not been entirely satisfactory.
In principle therefore, we have nothing against the appointment of new home-grown judges who understand our cultural and historical context better.

We also wish to state right at the onset that the recommendation for new judges by the Acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase and the Attorney General Haae Phoofolo might have been technically above board.
However, there remains a deep-seated perception that their recommendations were patently political.

That is because there is a perception that both Justice Mahase and Phoofolo are politically compromised because of their perceived sympathies to former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
It follows therefore that whatever decision they took would be interpreted against that background.

In the interests of fairness and transparency, Justice Mahase and Phoofolo should have waited for all four members of the JSC to be available to make this key decision.
Any other decision would feed, as it has already done, the perception that the process was tainted by political considerations.

The manner in which the recommendations have been made raises serious questions about the political motives. We know that our judiciary has always been a contested arena.
In recent times, we have witnessed politicians stampeding to capture the judiciary in an attempt to push their own agendas and appoint their own cronies.

That has not stopped.
Under Thabane’s rule, there was a clear attempt to capture the judiciary to ensure judges danced to the premier’s tune. We also saw similar moves under Pakalitha Mosisili.

The result was utter confusion and complete destabilisation of a key tenet of our democracy.
That is why we are seeing this pushback by civil society and sections of society. They fully appreciate the implications of allowing powerful individuals to stuff the bench with their own cronies.

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