Judge moans over budget cuts

Judge moans over budget cuts

MASERU – LESOTHO’S justice delivery system could be hurtling towards shutdown of some operations due to financial problems, the Acting Chief Justice has said.
Proceedings of the Court of Appeal could be particularly affected, acting Chief Justice ’Maseforo Mahase told thepost in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.
“In fiscal year 2019-2020, the judiciary is in danger of not setting any sessions at all. I emphasize, in the Court of Appeal, due to budgetary constraints,” she said.
“We have been allocated only allowance funds and no accommodation and transport,” said Justice Mahase.
She is miffed that Treasury has cut the judiciary’s budget despite her relentless efforts to convince Parliament that the courts need more money.

Justice Mahase has had enough of the begging that she is about to throw in the towel “and just do my job,” she said.
Finance Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro, in his budget speech last month, proposed M97.7 million for the judiciary’s recurrent budget and M32 million for the capital budget.
Justice Mahase said the judiciary is in a dire financial situation and is reeling from a massive debt crisis.
She said in the fiscal year 2014-2015, the judiciary received M28.8 million for operational costs, up from M27 million the previous financial year.

However, allocations have been on a “terrible” downward spiral except in 2017-2018, when the allocation for operational costs was increased to M42.2 million.
She said in the 2015-2016 financial year, the judiciary’s allocation was cut by a whopping M6.9 million.
In the 2016-2017 year, Treasury again cut the budget by M1.2 million.

In the last fiscal year 2018-2019, the budget allocation took an unprecedented cut of M26.3 million, she said.
She said they have been pleading with the government through the Minister of Justice, Mokhele Moletsane, that the judiciary “has a lot of problems” and the budget allocation is too little to meet even the most basic of needs.
She said since she has been “talking to the government for the longest time, it is time that I perform my tasks and ignore everything regarding the budget”.
“It has been a long time since we prayed, (we were) shouting, striking so that we be heard about problems we are facing, but it seemed like we have not been heard,” she said.
“As for now, I have to do my job, if I need 10 judges, I will just let the government know. As for how are they going to be paid, it is not up to me,” she said.

Justice Mahase explained that the courts are battling with a severe shortage of judges and the death of Justice ’Maseshophe Hlajoane last month has worsened the situation.
“There are about seven judges. If we exclude two judges form the Commercial Court, there is going to be five of us remaining. Out of this five some are going for retirement soon,” she said, adding: “So I will not give judges who are on the way out new cases. We are going to need other judges.”

She said the budget cuts could affect service delivery to the detriment of people’s expectations.
She said from the budget allocation, she has to pay bills for electricity, water and paper.
“I won’t talk about the houses given to us because they are a mess. This money is too little that we cannot afford to meet our expectations,” she said.

Judiciary spokeswoman, ’Mabohlokoa Mapikitla, said a request for more money will be sent to the authorities.
“We are still hoping that parliament will increase our budget because if not, the judiciary will still remain the same. There won’t be a change,” Mapikitla said.
She indicated that discussions with Parliament on a possible review of the judiciary’s budget are underway.

The president of the Judicial Officers Association of Lesotho (JOALE), Peete Molapo, also expressed disappointment with the budget allocation to the judiciary.
“We have been telling the minister about our problems but it seems like we have not been heard, we are really disappointed,” he said.
He however said he was not aware of the talks happening with parliament, although he hopes the negotiations will succeed.
Parliament adjourned since die on Monday before solving the issue.

Itumeleng Khoete

 

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