The process of appointing seven new judges of the High Court of Lesotho has been frozen because the judiciary cannot afford to continue with it due to being allocated a meagre budget.
According to High Court Registrar Advocate ‘Mathato Rasekoai, the High Court of Lesotho has been allocated a little over M400 000 for its entirety of operations in the first quarter of the new financial year.
She said the allocated money falls far short of the court’s operational costs and is a move that could further cripple the troubled judiciary.
The allocation is a massive drop from last year’s M20million allotment, and clearly the reason for the freezing of a process of appointing seven new judges to the bench until there is sufficient funding to cover it. Rasekoai said the money is so meagre it could barely cater for costs to hire a car for one of the two judges elected to man the Leribe-branch of the court to operate from the Tšifa-li-Mali complex court.
“The issue of appointing judges has been hanged due to the small amount of money that has been allocated to the judiciary in order to appoint the judges; the money is too little to appoint judges. We are not at the stage where we can say we have lost; we are still meeting with relevant people in the finance sector to help us. The first circular explains the preparations that we were supposed t0 do until he judges are hired,” she said citing that they are in talks with the Ministry of Finance for additional funds.
“The process dragged due to lack of finances and the long meetings to negotiate for more money, the clock was ticking, until we decided to halt the process of appointing judges.
“This means that it stops where it is. It is not cancelled and there will be none started from the beginning because there is nothing wrong with it. On two positions, two judges are going to be elected to work in Tšifa-li-Mali.
“We had to prepare the accommodation of judges, hire cars for them and ensure that there is office equipment, and all that can only be accomplished with a good budget,” she said.
“When the financial year starts, all the courts; from the Court of Appeal to Local Court, will be operating with a budget of about M900 000 which we have to split among ourselves,” she said adding that the Appeal Court has been given M20 000 while all the Local Courts have been solaced with only M4000.
“The High Court only has M400 000 when we split the money and Court of Appeal given M20 000 for operating costs. Other courts at the district level are given only M400 which includes the judges’ salaries, water, and petrol and airtime costs. Although it has been termed as obligations, it is the benefits of the lawyers that we cannot owe them, meaning there is nothing that we are going to do.
“This is not a budget that will enable us to work in any kind of way; it compels us to freeze the appointment. We cannot even buy a single car or afford to transfer even a single judge to Tšifa-li-Mali, so the situation has forced us to hang it and by the time we have been given a good budget we will then continue with the process.
“This is the first quarter money that we have been allocated, traditionally it is the case that we are allotted money for three months, and the next until the end of the year,” she said.