Lesotho judiciary in financial distress
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By Maleshoane Lebelo
Lesotho’s judiciary is in financial woes and has suspended the appointment of 7 judges after its 2021/2022 operational budget was cut by almost 9 million.
Advocate ’Mathato Sekoai, registrar of the high court and court of appeal said in comparison with 2020/2021 financial year’s budget which stood at M20 million, the 2021/2022 budget is only just M11 million.
Sekoai was also speaking as the secretary of the judicial service commission, said the government of Lesotho has only allocated the judiciary M11 million Maloti which has caused the suspension of the appointment of a new member of the judicial bench.
She further said to add more problems to the financial problems faced by the judiciary having a limited budget, in their first quarter warrant they only received M937, 366.
Sekoai said the M937, 366 is to be shared by the country’s subordinate courts including the High Court and the court of appeal within the first quarter.
Sekoai said the pitiful amount is for the first quarter of the financial year 2021/2022 from April to June 2021 and that M 937, 366 budget for all courts is less than M1,3 million electricity debt owned by the Maseru Magistrate Court alone.
Last financial year, Sekoai said they were allocated M20 million for the entire year but they had requested M25 million.
She said it is worrying that in the current financial year which started in April 2021 they were unfortunately given only M11 Million.
Of that amount, Sekoai said M5 million is allocated for the High court and the rest has to be shared by the other courts.
She further said it is inconsiderable how the government experts the Court of Appeal, High Court, and over 50 subordinates courts to use the trivial amount to cover their operational costs which includes electricity, gas, water, fuel, stationery, and telephone bills among others.
She said in the M937, 366, the High Court has been allocated M463, 788 that has prompted the court to suspend the process of recruiting seven new judges who are urgently needed to ease the shortage which has contributed to a huge backlog of cases estimated at more than 4000.
Advocate Sekoai the suspension of the judges’ recruitment was to enable them to negotiate with the executive to increase the judiciary’s budget.
She said the recruitment process has not been terminated and once funds have been allocated the recruitment process will continue from where it was suspended.
Speaking of the woes the courts face within the first quarter, Sekoai said the court of appeal has been given M20, 215 and the situation is even worse in the lower courts in the country s 10 districts.
The lower courts, she said in Maseru have been given M96, 149, while those in Mafeteng have been allocated M31, 305, Berea M24, 289, Leribe M11, 177, Botha-Bothe M4, 316, Mokhotlong M5, 549, Qacha’s Nek M31, 159.
She further said Quthing has been allocated M6, 760, Mohale Hoek M8, 599, and Thaba-Tseka M12, 006.
The Master of High Court, Sekoai said has been allocated M209, 060.
Commenting on the allocations to the lower courts Advocate Sekoai said it would be impossible for them to function on the trivial budget.
There were two judges who were supposed to go to Tsifa-li-Mali Court Complex in Leribe but due to financial problems, such a plan has been suspended because the M453, 788 allocated to the High Court cannot even afford to buy a car for one judge.
She said the M453, 788 it only covers the electricity, water, petrol, and telephone expenses of the current eight judges.
Sekoai concluded they are not given money in a lump sum but it comes in installments on a quarterly basis and it will be impossible for them to operate in this budget but they are hopeful that the current talks with the government will yield positive results.