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Courts are ‘not’ fighting corruption: Registrar

By Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MASERU – Notwithstanding the calls for “all” stakeholders to be involved in the fight against corruption that is seemingly rampant in the country, the courts will not join the bandwagon in this endeavor, the Appeal Court and the High Court Registrar Advocate ‘Mathato Sekoai had unequivocally said.

She said theirs is to adjudicate over the matters brought before them.

The Registrar further said while other parties have a particular interest citing police, crown, anti-corruption body, the courts are only neutral players in the broader scheme of things taking neither side.

This Advocate Sekoai said in response to the calls by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) for the judiciary to buy in the appeal to have every institution on board to fight corruption that is seemingly rampant in the country.

It will be recalled that recently the DCEO has been in a crusade to chase those suspected to have a hand in the embezzlement of public funds including the former Principal Secretaries.

Corruption has been said to hold the development and economic progress of Lesotho hostage and there have been efforts to fight it. Be that as it may, there are acts of corruption still happening and some have also been flagged by the annual Auditor-General’s report and also the parliament’s oversight committee, Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Owing to the arbiter position that the courts hold in either criminal and civil matters, the Registrar said they have found themselves declining to join the campaigns and heed to calls that are agitating for the fight against corruption.

“These people, whether you call them defense lawyers, prosecution, they are party to the litigation but we are not parties. Our mandate is to hear cases and deliver justice,” she said.

There has also been an outcry of the backlog of the cases in the courts where they take very long to be disposed of where in some cases the witnesses even die and the suspects. This has necessitated the country to have specialized courts especially those that will solely handle corruption related matters.

Reacting to the delay in disposing of the cases in courts, Advocate Sekoai said not every case in court is ready for trial. She said there are a number of published protocols including the rules of court and practice directives which illustrate the procedure to be followed when a case is brought before the court.

“A number of those cases get filed and once they get filed they have to be processed in accordance with the rules of procedure which are given more meaning by the practice directives that are issued from time to time and once everything has been complied with, the case is now trial ready; we start talking now of a date before a particular judge and in so far as the judiciary is concerned and in so far as the understanding of the backlog …so the definition of a backlog should be when you talk of a backlog for cases before the court.

“Let us focus on the cases that are trial ready because those would be the cases that are awaiting their turn before a judge for the judge to hear that, those are cases that would in fact now be categorized as backlog because we say, save for the availability of the judicial officer these cases are ripe for hearing,” she emphasized.

The issue of compounding corruption related offenses in courts could also be attributed to the fact that DCEO does not prosecute them, they have to ask for leave to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s office. Meanwhile, the public had expressed the concern in the ‘Multi-stakeholder National Dialogue Plenary II Report’ for this lack of autonomy of the DCEO and had called for it to be empowered by law to prosecute and be answerable to the parliament.

DCEO prosecutor, Advocate Mponeng Ranthiti decried understaffing in the saying this causes slow progress on their investigations.

Another issue that had bedeviled the anti-graft body is that of lack of resources especially funds for witnesses’ allowances such as accommodation for those coming from far places, food and transport. Unlike in the past where they would give cash to witnesses, the anti-corruption prosecutor said the current government system is not amenable to that arrangement. 

She also echoed the sentiments for the establishment of an anti-corruption specialized court which she argued would go a long way towards their effort to fight and arrest corrupt activities in the country. Their efforts she pointed out are undermined by missing dockets in courts, and easy bail granting conditions.

Recovering proceeds of crime, she said is no mean feat especially the female prosecutors saying their lives are in danger as they receive “strange” phone calls and sometimes they are being “followed”.

Advocate Ranthiti further urged the government to mount the expertise training citing the limited knowledge they have to investigate cybercrime related crimes. This lack of capacity she said causes the miscarriage of justice.

Deputy Prime Minister who doubles as the Minister of Law and Justice, Justice Nthomeng Majara had also recently reiterated on the establishment of specialized courts in particular corruption saying the current government is giving attention to that need.

“And as we are doing that, I can also assure you that we are also looking into the issue of finances and other resources for those courts including increasing the number of judges,” she stressed.

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