The law must take its course without delay
ELSEWHERE in this edition, we carry a report in which High Court judge, Tšeliso Monaphathi, rightly chastises officers of court for the inordinate postponement of cases involving high-profile suspects.
Justice Monapathi is spot on in warning that, if the trend continues, the reputation of the courts in this country will be left in tatters. The administration of justice in this country is already perceived in a negative light.
There are perceptions among the masses that the wheels of justice are oiled to move faster and efficiently against the poor and unconnected in the Kingdom while every attempt is made to safeguard the political elites from facing judicial scrutiny. In a country which has experienced corruption, theft and plunder of state resources at epidemic levels, it is disconcerting that not a single minister or principal secretary has seen the walls of Maseru Central Prison. Yet it is these people who make the decisions that have prejudiced this poor country.
Widespread skepticism also persists regarding the competence of the various officers of courts to administer their work. There is simply a myriad of challenges facing the judiciary which newly-appointed Chief Justice, Nthomeng Majara, would have to resolve quickly.
An efficient, functional, impartial and competent judiciary, complemented by properly trained and efficient graft investigating agencies, is ultimately the cornerstone of any democracy. We are not at all imputing anything over the guilt or lack thereof of former cabinet minister Timothy Thahane. That’s for Justice Monapathi’s court to decide.
But for Mr Thahane’s lawyer, Qhalehang Letsika, to simply walk into a High Court and ask for a postponement of the case, as he did this week, claiming he was not aware the case would proceed on the appointed dates is simply untenable.
Equally indefensible is Mr Letsika’s argument that the dates of 12, 13 and 14 November set for the trial were merely provisional and he had not envisaged the trial would proceed as they had not been confirmed. In fact the latter argument reflects badly on him as a professional. Isn’t it every lawyer’s duty to ensure clarity and certainty about when their client must appear before the courts?
In this case, the State argued the dates had in fact been confirmed and the judge insisted it was Mr Letsika himself who had suggested them in the first place.
In making his point, Justice Monapathi uttered the following poignant words: “It now seems to be the tradition to postpone these high-profile cases. ...Taxpayers see us drawing our salaries for postponing cases and that perception is for us to remove.”
Several high profile people including Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, former Natural Resources Minister Monyane Moleleki , former Ministry of Home Affairs Principal Secretary Retšelisitsoe Khetsi and others are before the courts over various alleged misdemeanors.
Mr Metsing has since gone to the constitutional court to seek relief over the “violation” of his rights in the current attempt to charge him. Mr Moleleki’s corruption and fraud case has dragged on due to his reported illness. The deputy Democratic Congress leader has nevertheless been seen at political events yet a perception had been created that he was on his death bed. If Mr Moleleki has speedily recovered, then his case must proceed without delay.
The expeditious adjudication of cases is beneficial to everyone, but mainly those who find themselves in the dock. Cooperating in processes to have their cases finalized should be advantageous to all accused. Unless of course they know they have a case to answer and would rather not appear before the courts. In the case of politicians and senior government bureaucrats, speedier adjudication provides them with ample opportunity to clear their names and return to public life with a modicum of respect.
Just as an example, South African President Jacob Zuma has long faced about 800 fraud and corruption charges. Even before that country’s national prosecuting authority controversially declined to prosecute him, Mr Zuma had fought hard to avoid having his day in court.
The result is that the taint of corruption will forever stay with Mr Zuma and a dark cloud will always hang over him to the detriment of the nation he leads.