Hands off my Chief Justice - Khama

Khama directed by Dibotelo to take a Presidential Oath.Pic.Kagiso Onkatswitse
Khama directed by Dibotelo to take a Presidential Oath.Pic.Kagiso Onkatswitse

President Ian Khama has accused the four suspended High Court judges of damaging the judicial system.

The President suspended the four after an unprecedented move by Chief Justice, Maruping Dibotelo, who reported  them to the police for investigatation, for receiving a housing allowance while residing in government houses.

The four judges are: Justices Key Dingake, Modiri Letsididi, Mercy Garekwe and Ranier Busang.

Khama wrote to the quartet individually in a letter dated August 26, 2015, under the heading ‘Appointment of Tribunal: Yourself’ suspending them from the office of the Judge of the High Court.

Khama’s letter forms part of documents in case (Case Number UAHGB000175-15) filed with the High court on Monday in which the four High Court judges are attempting to interdict the sitting of the tribunal.

Khama accused the judges of what he deemed their misconduct in undermining the authority of Dibotelo as the chief justice of the country.

The president accused the judges of damaging the judicial system by writing a harsh letter to the chief justice, following the commencing of the investigation into the allegations laid upon them, instead of letting the investigation run its course.

“It has been brought to my attention that you have for a considerable period been occupying residential accommodation provided by and paid for by the government while at the same time receiving a housing allowance from the government in lieu of such accommodation. This matter is currently under investigation by the police, and that investigation will run its course,” reads the letter.

Khama maintained that he was greatly concerned after the judges wrote the response letter to Dibotelo, of which it’s content and tone he regarded as harsh.

He accused the judges and others who had joined in support, of undermining the authority of the chief justice, being divisive and also damaging the judiciary.

“What is of great concern to me in addition, is that following commencement of the investigation and arising out of it, you have written a letter to the chief justice, copied to all the judges of the High Court, the contents and tone of which I regard in a very serious light. Its content speak for themselves …

“This has been followed by adverse publicity and a petition signed by you and other judges. I regard this as prima facie undermining the authority of the chief justice of Botswana and as being divisive and damaging to our judiciary,” further reads the letter.

He further pointed out that after much consideration he had used his powers and decided accordingly to invoke the provisions of Section 97 of the Constitution and to appoint a tribunal to investigate whether the judges ought to be removed from the office of the Judge of the High Court for misbehaviour. As part of the suspension, which effected on September 1, 2015, Khama stated that the judges were forbidden from using the official vehicles but would continue to receive their salary and government housing until the work of the tribunal is concluded.

In the letter Khama is referring to, the quartet on August 12, 2015 responded to the chief justice, accusing him of harassment.

“We are in receipt of your letter with respect to the above matter, which you wrote ostensibly in your capacity as Chief Justice and Chairman of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

“We are alarmed that a matter as internal as housing allowance, whose continued receipt at the instance of the Administration of Justice (AoJ) was never raised with us at any point, has become a criminal matter that you have referred to the police for investigation,” wrote the four judges.

“The full import of your letter or complaint to the police is that the judges, of which you are merely the first amongst equals, have in your eyes, and by extension the Judicial Service Commission, committed a criminal offence. This is the most degrading and gravest of accusations a Chief Justice can level at his colleagues. “In this context, your selective approach which is highly questionable, amounts to harassment and witch-hunting.”

The quartet continued: “We are of the view that there was no basis upon which to proceed in the manner you did other than being actuated by the crudest and most glaring form of malice to ‘destroy careers’ of some including those ‘who want to replace you as Chief Justice’ as you recently declared publicly.”

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