Foreign judges threaten  to quit

Foreign judges threaten to quit

MASERU – THE three foreign judges hired for high-profile political cases might quit after a deadlock with the government over salaries and benefits.
The judges have not been paid for the past two months due to delays that have exposed the shocking bureaucracy within the government.

The three judges arrived in July under an EU-funded project to hear cases that the government said were too controversial for local judges to handle.
The government sought the EU’s assistance to hire the foreign judges saying it wanted people untainted by the social and political connections in the country.
At that time the government said the request was urgent because dozens of suspects, who include former army commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, had been wallowing in detention for months.
The EU quickly approved the proposal that came through SADC which was initially supposed to manage the project. Sometime in August the EU transferred M14.5 million to SADC which in turn forwarded it to Lesotho three weeks ago.

Yet the judges, one from Zimbabwe and two from Botswana, are yet to receive their salaries. Instead there has been a back-and-forth between them and the government.
The Acting High Court Registrar Pontso Phafoli, who is the judiciary’s chief accounting officer and is at the cente of the fiasco, refused to comment on the issue.
“I am sorry I don’t talk about judges’ salaries,” Phafoli said.

Three issues have annoyed the judges. The first is that their salaries have been delayed but the government doesn’t seem to appreciate the inconvenience this has caused them.
Second, they are unhappy about the salaries which they say are way less than international rates.
thepost understands that the judges raised this issue when they signed the contracts in July.
Documents show that the project will run for 18 months and each judge will earn M50 000 per month. There will also be a responsibility allowance of M20 000.
Third, they are upset that senior officials at the High Court are insisting on taxing their salaries despite admitting that they should not be taxed because they are on a diplomatic assignment and these are donor funds.

Under normal circumstances, donor funds are not taxed and the same applies for officials on diplomatic assignments. That was the same arrangement with soldiers, police officers and other officials who were part of the SADC mission to Lesotho last year.

Sources say over the past few weeks the judges have had several meetings with Phafoli, the Minister of Justice Mokhele Moletsane, Acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase and the EU ambassador to Lesotho, Christian Manahl, but very little progress has been made in breaking the impasse.

By yesterday the acting chief justice was said to be frantically looking for a solution to the crisis which might scuttle the project and condemn the suspects to more months in remand prison.
If unresolved the impasse might also scare off other foreign judges the government plans to hire for the project.

The government wants to hire two more judges to make them five.
Several sources told thepost that last week Minister Moletsane instructed Phafoli to get the necessary tax exemption from the Lesotho Revenue Authority but she had not made any headway by yesterday afternoon.
Moletsane confirmed that the judges had not been paid but said he was working to resolve the issue.
He said the delay had been caused by “some administrative issues”.

He said SADC initially agreed to manage the project but later said “their hands are full and cannot do the work”.
“SADC later said they have a lot of projects and cannot administer the funding,” Moletsane said.
The minister said SADC then proposed to transfer the project to Lesotho through what is known as a “chanelling agreement” that has since been signed.
He said the Ministry of Finance has now received the funds, adding that it will be “wrong to describe the situation as a crisis” because “there is no controversy at all”.
“It would be a problem if we were saying we will be unable to dispense payment of the judges.”

thepost has been told that the judiciary now has the funds but there is a disagreement over how much the judges should earn and whether they are supposed to be taxed.
A source in the High Court’s administration said the judges did not get ‘settlement allowances’ when they arrived. Instead they were told that they would be having their meals at a lodge in Thetsane, where one of the judges is staying.

The other two judges are staying in Maseru, about six kilometres away from the lodge, and have to travel to the lodge for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The judges have also not received their phone allowances.

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