By Fidelis Munyoro
Chief Justice Luke Malaba has urged all stakeholders in the justice delivery system to rally behind Government’s fight against corruption. He made the remarks during the official opening of the 2019 Legal Year in Harare yesterday.
The event was attended by high-ranking Government officials, judicial officers, members of the legal fraternity and diplomats. Chief Justice Malaba said the Judiciary was unyielding in its fight against corruption.
He said this required lawyers, judges and magistrates to take cognisance of the harmful effects of corruption on the livelihoods of Zimbabweans.
“If we do not coalesce around this scourge, we all stand to be doomed as a nation. It is complicated because it involves clandestine transactions between willing parties. It is committed by sophisticated and well-resourced individuals. These extraordinary offenders therefore require extraordinary ways to stop them from further compromising the administration of justice,” said Chief Justice Malaba.
He said the specialised anti-corruption courts established last year were a symbol of judiciary commitment to fighting corruption with other stakeholders. The courts, set up in Harare and Bulawayo, were operationalised last year as a pilot project.
Three more courts to deal with corruption will be established in Masvingo, Gweru and Mutare during the first half of the year. The Chief Justice hailed stakeholders for embracing the initiative and taking various steps to aid in the fight against graft.
“I am gratified by the collaboration of all arms of the State in fighting corruption. The unrelenting stance taken by the executive in the fight against corruption is refreshing. It demonstrates political will for Zimbabweans to coalesce against the scourge,” he said.
Chief Justice Malaba said while society rightly demands results overnight, that was not be possible in a country that respects the rule of law.
He said Zimbabwe was a constitutional democracy and everyone was afforded equal protection of the law.
“Everyone suspected of having committed an offence is innocent until proven guilty. It is necessary therefore to follow due process after the arrest of a person suspected of engaging in corruption,” he said.
Chief Justice Malaba urged investigating and arresting agencies to thoroughly investigate cases before referring them to the National Prosecuting Authority. He challenged the Acting Prosecutor General Mr Kumbirai Hodzi to expeditiously deal with dockets and bring them for trial.
Prosecutors and lawyers were reminded never to forget their duties as officers of the court. Chief Justice Malaba said they owe it to the Constitution and the nation to ensure fair presentation of the cases, ethical conduct in the courts and to assist the courts to make just decisions.
“I have made it clear to all judicial officers both privately or publicly that we need to deal with matters that come to our courts expeditiously and impartially.
“I do so again today. I expect matters that come to our court, including particularly corruption-related matters, to be dealt with without delay. Corruption is the complete opposite of the rule of law in a country riddled with cases of corruption. I have to that end requested the Acting Secretary (Walter Chikwanha) to ensure that we open anti-corruption courts in Masvingo, Mutare and Gweru during the course of the year,” said Chief Justice Malaba.
Chief Justice Malaba said the judiciary had not been spared the economic hardships facing the nation. He said while the Judiciary acknowledged the Government’s policy statement and austerity measures announced by Finance and Economic Development Minister Mthuli Ncube, the judiciary, unlike other two arms of the State, was unable to aggressively push for increased budgetary allocations. He said this was the reason why the Judicial Service Commission tries to live within the means allocated to it.
“It will therefore be a self-defeating exercise for Treasury to attempt to unnecessarily ring-fence the JSC’s budget and stifle the Judiciary from accessing its budgeted funds timeously.
“Any such measures are a threat to the independence of the Judiciary and to the rule of law. An independent Judiciary is one that receives enough funding to run the courts in order to protect the rights of citizens.
“It is only a Judiciary that is truly independent which decides matters impartially without fear, favour or prejudice and is impervious and immune to extraneous influence. It is only a truly independent Judiciary which can withstand the pressure exacted by the demands of the principle of the rule of law,” he said.
Chief Justice Malaba said the doctrine of separation of powers embraces the independence of the Judiciary.
“That independence includes financial independence. It is important in this context that the Judiciary is able to access funds allocated to it in the budget timeously in order to execute its constitutional mandate. Anything contrary to this will negatively affect court operations. Unfortunately that in turn may be interpreted as interference and is certainly a threat to the rule of law,” added Chief Justice Malaba.
He said the JSC should be allowed to set the conditions of service for judicial officers and supporting staff. The Chief Justice said the power to do so was enshrined in the Constitution and the Judicial Service Act.
“This is always done within the confines of the budget allocated to the JSC. That power was given to ensure that the Judiciary remains independent and need not depend on the benevolence of other State entities. I therefore urge everyone and particularly Treasury to allow the Judiciary space to deal with its own financial affairs,” said Chief Justice Malaba.
He said he would account for every cent.
Source : The Herald