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Compromising The Bench

AFTER working for 25 years in the Zimbabwe civil service involving five governments, including the Federation, one had the well-founded belief that the strongest arm of government was the Treasury.

 

Each ministry was heavily reliant on funding to remain effective. Every head of office was required to submit annual budgets and was accountable to maintain them on a monthly basis.

There was no “quasi-fiscal” bailing out for failed institutions and every civil servant was required to respect assets paid out of tax payers’ pockets.

Judges were appointed to the Bench after substantial litigation experience and having secured their own means to establish themselves.

The recent hype of judges receiving top of the range TV sets, motor cars and other extravaganza, reminds me of my days as Provincial Magistrate of Matabeleland in 1983 when the then Secretary of Justice paid me a visit at Tredgold Building. I took the opportunity of complaining about an advert the Ministry of Justice had placed in the Government Gazette calling for tenders to provide a colour TV and a video player in the house of the new chief justice.

I asked how he could possible justify this in the light of his recent circular calling on stringent expense measures to the extent that magistrates conducting periodical courts in the districts should be encouraged to travel in prison vehicles servicing those courts to save travelling costs. The secretary, who was later to become a much-respected director and chairman of boards of a number blue chip public companies, was silent for a moment and then conceded it was a mistake.

The controversy over the magnitude of these current windfalls to the judiciary was further compounded by the reported remark of the Master of the High Court who is alleged to have commented that off-road vehicles were also being issued “as it was not desirable for judges to drive Mercedes Benz in rough terrain going to their farms”.

No effort was made to attempt to diminish the widely held view by the public that the beneficiaries were open to influence.

No doubt their lordships were proud to see on their new TV’s the Zimbabwe team enter the arena at the opening of the Olympics in August, but the reality would have been brought home to them when the commentator, before millions of viewers throughout the world, then went onto described Zimbabwe as “the poorest nation of the world”.

Hopefully their lordships would have taken heed of this remark and done the honourable thing and returned these expensive items to their source.

As an aside, is there any information as to whether traditional tender methods of calling for tenders for the supply of vehicles and televisions etc were published, and who were the successful bidders? And what did this cost the taxpayers?

Gordon Geddes (ex-Regional Magistrate)

Bulawayo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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