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Judiciary feels financial squeeze

2021-03-30  Maria Amakali

Judiciary feels financial squeeze
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As the courts battle to clear the backlog of cases currently pilling up on their rolls at the same time increasing the civil jurisdiction of the lower courts, the recently decreased budget allocation may negatively affect such activities.

The Office of the Judiciary was allocated a budget ceiling of N$375.7 million during the 2020/21 financial year. 

However, this allocation was reduced with an amount of N$4.5 million, which decreased the ceiling to N$371.2 million in the new financial year. 

According to Judiciary spokesperson Selma Mwaetako, if no additional funds are made available, critical activities such as hiring personnel and acquiring goods and services may be negatively affected. 

“No budgetary provision could be made for the filling of vacant posts in respect of judges, magistrates and court staff as the approved ceiling will not be able to absorb such expenditure,” said Mwaetako. 

Further indicating the introduction of new reforms at the courts, such as the increase of civil jurisdiction at the magistrate’s courts, requires more personnel for implementation. 

Currently, the Office of the Judiciary has an approved personnel establishment of 994 of which 724 positions are filled. 

Of 724, comprise 22 judges, 91 magistrates and 611 staff members.

Mwaetako said the Covid-19 pandemic had a detrimental effect on the finalisation rate of cases, especially criminal cases, and hence the backlog has increased. 

“There is accordingly an urgent need for additional judicial officers and court personnel to be employed to ensure that timely access to justice as well as service delivery is improved,” noted Mwaetako.

In relations to goods and services, Mwaetako said the allocation for the payment of court fees such as witness fees, casual interpreters, messenger fees, mediation fees and transcription fees will not be sufficient for the entire financial year.

The Office of the Judiciary’s monthly overhead expenditure relating to utilities such as water & electricity, telephones, courier services for all the 41 courts and offices countrywide remains an exorbitant expenditure which the Judiciary may find difficult to honour because of the current allocation, said Mwaetako.

“Due to competing needs which are all priorities, the office finds it extremely difficult to allocate funds that correspond to the anticipated expenditure. Neither can we suspend some of our activities or operations to enable adequate funding of some of the priorities,” explained Mwaetako. 

She added that the analogy that offices are responsible for internal allocation based on the ceiling provided, cannot be applied in the case of the Judiciary.

“We must also emphasise that the activities and operations of the Judiciary cannot be planned and forecasted based on a set agenda, that normally takes course in a typical public administration set-up, as our agenda is determined by criminal trends and the operations of other stakeholders in the criminal justice sector. Our response, therefore, needs to be ever evolving to effectively discharge our constitutional mandate,” said Mwaetako.

2021-03-30  Maria Amakali

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