By Fred M’membe
THERE’S A CRISIS LOOMING IN THE JUDICIARY
There is a looming standoff between Mr Hakainde Hichilema’s corrupt puppet regime and the judiciary over the conditions of service for judges.
The dispute is the result of an ongoing stalemate between the two parties, with the Executive being the culprit and dragging its feet on the issue of the conditions of service and tenure of judges. This corrupt UPND puppet regime aims to freeze or reduce the conditions of service and remuneration of judges under the guise of cutting expenses and costs thereby saving and encouraging frugality in the application of state resources.
These manoeuvres coupled with the arrogant handling of the issue by the Hichilema led Executive has annoyed and frustrated the judges, with some now threatening to walk out of their chambers and take the state to the Constitutional Court. If this happens, it will definitely be an extraordinary and unprecedented situation in the history of the judiciary in Zambia.
For the first time in history, we are faced with a situation where the Executive wants to pit the Attorney General against the judges whilst appearing before other judges. Mr Hichilema is pushing the judiciary to appear before itself? What type of confusion is this? What an epic leadership failure and disaster? What type of arrogance and exaggerated sense of self worthy is Mr Hichilema possessed with? How can everyone be wrong except him? How many battles will he engage in and win? Isn’t this recklessness?
This country is in a crisis. There are more negative and worrisome features in the manner Mr Hichilema is administering this country. Parliament is gone. The judiciary is almost gone too and the Executive, which is headed by Mr Hichilema is rotten to the core. So where will the citizens turn to if all key institutions of governance become discredited and eventually collapse? He is even trying to cause confusion, divisions in the church. Look at how he has divided and paralysed the Catholic leadership!
We have been compelled to comment on these issues because the judges seem to have had enough and are now talking and complaining openly. We would like to remind Mr Hichilema that no matter how low he thinks of the judges he has favoured with jobs conditions of service and tenure of judges are important for the overall independence, effective functioning of, and public confidence in the courts. In fact, judges should command the highest salaries within the public sector, both to reinforce the unique role and characteristics of the office and to attract the most qualified candidates. Remuneration of judges must be high enough to limit the risk of conflicts of interest or corruption arising from the need for judges to supplement their income.
Below are the judge’s grievances, which Mr Hichilema’s corrupt puppet regime is trying to sidestep:
- Refusal to be a part of the Specified Offices’ Pension Benefits Bill of 2023. Currently, Judges Conditions of Service are governed by the Judges Conditions of Service Act cap 277 and S.I No. 140 of 1996 which is called The Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Regulations.
Of serious concern to the judges here is their already accrued benefits. And Judges are saying that they’re ready to be declared redundant if this bill becomes law.
- Also of concern relating to conditions is:
a) Settling in allowance /computation leave pay – It has been reduced without a legal explaination as to how it has changed.
b) Motor vehicles – In 2021, motor vehicles were procured. About 13 of them but due the so called policy direction by the President, they are just parked and awaiting to be sold or used by visiting foreign dignitaries.
c) Furniture – Judges are entitled to furniture but so they have not been getting it.
d)Security – Judges are entitled to armed police guard 24 hrs at their place of residence but for that to happen, the judges have to provide the armed officer accommodation and if they don’t, it will not work.
e) Official Motor Vehicle – to be maintained by the judiciary and it is supposed to be replaced every 5 years if funds are available.
- Judges do not accept to be part of the judicial (code of conduct bill 2023).
Listed above are just some of the demands of the judges to the Executive branch of the government. But as earlier indicated the Executive is trying to elude or avoid fulfilling its obligations.
We have said it before that Mr Hichilema and his minions don’t need high salaries and improved conditions of service because they are making a lot of money from fertiliser, oil, mining deals and other corrupt schemes. Judges don’t.
Therefore, we demand that Mr Hichilema and the UPND government urgently improve the salaries and conditions of service for the judges. We make this important call after noticing that Mr Hichilema and his corrupt puppet regime are deliberately trying to play down the need for better remuneration and conditions of service for judges by using selfish and dishonest justifications and claims of frugality or prudence with state resources.
It’s sad that all this is taking place at a time when Mr Hichilema himself and the UPND politicians currently serving in this government are becoming more and more richer whilst trying to cheat their way out by citing the economy as the main contributor to their inability to remunerate judges appropriately.
The biggest challenge with this government, and Mr Hichilema in particular, is that they don’t want to see the governance of this country in any other way than beyond deceit, lies and manipulation. They always want to do things out of political expediency, greediness and at the expense of their fellow citizens. When it suits him, Mr Hichilema blames the economy yet the same does not apply to him and those around him. And it is the same mouths that are everyday telling Zambians how well the economy is doing and growing under their leadership. This was the essence of those graphs Mr Hichilema presented to the nation at that famous press conference of his.
We know that truthfully the economy is biting and their fiscal policies have lamentably failed but let them not allocate state resources selectively. Everyone – the judiciary, police, civil, servants etc – deserves their fair share amidst the difficulties facing the country today.
Mr Hichilema should not be allowed to deal with the remuneration and conditions of service for our judges in a way that will reduce their independence and public confidence in the courts.
We therefore call upon Mr Hichilema to stop the arrogance and selfishness, and immediately look into the remuneration and conditions of service of the judiciary. We cannot have a society where our judges are placed in a position of literally pleading with the Executive for a better pay and conditions of service.
We want to emphasize that the judiciary is a respected and dignified arm of the state and Mr Hichilema must realise that the first step to effective, fair and efficient dispensation of justice is to ensure that those presiding over our court system are adequately remunerated and taken care of by the state.
President of the Socialist Party