Registrar Sekoai hits back at judges

Registrar Sekoai hits back at judges

…As government fumes while the Chief Justice digs in her heels

MASERU – A whopping M2 million! That’s how much suspended High Court and Court of Appeal Registrar Mathato Sekoai has earned in the past six years while sitting at home. In that time the government has paid almost the same amount to her place holder, Lesitsi Mokeke. Now the government says it has had enough of paying two people for the same job and wants Sekoai reinstated.

But this has received stiff resistance from Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara and the JSC who view it as an attempt by the executive to interfere in judicial matters.
The chief justice is alleged to have recently told the Minister of Justice that the JSC could not reinstate Sekoai because she has filed a lawsuit that she has been reluctant to finalise.

Now Sekoai is in the middle of a nasty turf war between the government and the judiciary. She too seems to have reached her breaking point. And after years of refusing to publicly talk about her predicament Sekoai this week granted her first interview to thepost.

She says her decision to speak out was triggered by the chief justice’s allegation that she has stalled her August 2013 court case against the suspension.
“It’s time to set the record straight and let the people know that those are blatant lies being peddled to block my return to work,” she says.

Sekoai says contrary to the chief justice’s allegation her lawsuit to challenge the suspension in 2012 has been laying around for the past five years.
“It is a blatant lie that we have not pushed the case. Her statement gives the impression that I filed the case and left it there,” Sekoai says.

“The truth of the matter is that there has been a lot of correspondence between the Attorney General and my lawyers. The Attorney General’s office has been asking for more time to resolve the matter.”

Over the years Sekoai’s lawyer, Salemane Phafane, exchanged letters with the AG’s office regarding the court case. In those letters the AG’s office has been asking for more time to resolve the matter.

Documents seen by thepost show that on at least two occasions the AG’s office suggested an out of court settlement.
And as early as March 2013 the AG Tšokolo Makhethe told the acting registrar in a memo that he believed Sekoai’s suspension is unfair and cannot be successfully defended in court.

Makhethe pointed out that it was unfair that Sekoai remains suspended even after the High Court judges had flatly refused to corroborate their allegations against her so that the disciplinary proceedings could start.

“There is an unfair aspect to the transfer,” he said, in reference to the JSC’s decision to transfer Sekoai to become the chief magistrate.
The JSC had later revoked the transfer after protests from other magistrates who thought Sekoai should have faced disciplinary action before she was moved.

Makhethe noted that the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences had cleared Sekoai of the corruption allegation.
Sekoai says she is disappointed that “an impression is being created that I am happy to be away from my office”.
“It doesn’t come out clearly that the judges who complained against me failed to substantiate their allegations when requested by the JSC. They could not sustain their allegations that I was corrupt, incompetent and insubordinate.”

What irks her, Sekoai says, is that the chief justice is not admitting that she was part of the judges that instigated her suspension.
She knows that she was party to that action against me and that she was one of the people who were writing the letters containing the unfounded allegations against me. She also knows that the judges did not substantiate their allegations against me”.

“It pains me that the person who was complaining against me is now the one who is supposed to decide my fate because she is now the chief justice and therefore chairperson of the JSC. That aspect is not coming out clearly.”

Sekoai says even after refusing to substantiate their allegations the judges still insisted that she should be suspended.
“As things stand I feel robbed of my professional advancement. The injustice meted against me is being perpetuated by the chief justice’s recent utterances. They are being extremely economical with the truth.”

“The truth is that I have been robbed by people who think they are so powerful that they cannot account for their actions. Ironically, these are the same people who are supposed to protect the nation from injustice.”

“They have continued to violate the principle that says a person is innocent until proven guilty. My case is even worse because these judges have turned both judge and jury. They have persecuted me and now they are too proud to admit that they were wrong. Meanwhile, I continue to suffer injustice.”
Sekoai believes she is a “victim of a judicial system that has turned a blind eye to naked injustice”.
“What makes it sad is that the bench is supposed to be sacred but it jumped into an administrative issue. The result is that an entire bench is now contaminated by an administrative issue.”

She worries she might not get justice if her case was heard by one of the judges who had a hand in pushing her out.
“They overstepped their constitutional mandate. They all partook in the issue. Judges should remember their mandate and know that they are not only judged by the quality of their judgments but their behaviour as well. They are supposed to uphold a standard that is above average.”
“All I want is to get back to my position and do my work. Surely that is not too much to ask for.”

The problem however is that the Minister of Justice cannot railroad Sekoai’s reinstatement because that is the responsibility of the JSC, the appointing authority that made the suspension.

On the other hand, the JSC which is chaired by the chief justice seems hostile to Sekoai’s return to office. Despite receiving an ultimatum from the minister to reinstate Sekoai the JSC last week appointed another Acting Registrar to replace Mokeke who is now on a study leave.
Curiously, the JSC’s preferred candidate is an assistant registrar who is said to be sixth in terms of seniority among registrars.

In appointing Pontšo Phafoli the JSC overlooked two deputy registrars and three assistant registrars who are senior to her.
After that controversial appointment the JSC this week took the fight to Sekoai by filing an answering affidavit to the case in which she is demanding reinstatement.

The answering affidavit which came on Tuesday, some five years after the registrar filed her case, is an indication that the JSC and the chief justice are prepared to reinstate Sekoai.

The JSC’s response however seems to contradict Justice Majara’s initial reason for resisting Sekoai’s return.
A few weeks ago she allegedly told the Ministry of Justice that it was Sekoai who had stalled her own the case by not pushing for a hearing. It now appears that the case has been delayed because the JSC had not responded.

Staff Reporter

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