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‘JUDGES SHOULD TAKE ALCOHOL TESTS’

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LOBAMBA - Judges and magistrates should undergo breath tests before they preside over matters.
This was the strong view of Mangcongco Member of Parliament (MP) Oneboy Zikalala.


MP Zikalala said some of the judgments issued by judicial officers left a lot to be desired and he wondered if there was an instrument to check if they were sober or not when they presided over matters.


This transpired yesterday during the sitting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) where the Judiciary, represented by the Registrar of the Supreme Court, Lungile Msimango, appeared.


The crux of the matter was that the courts had a lot of cases which had not been heard dating back to 10 years ago.
The PAC was particularly concerned about the fact that about 47 civil servants were currently on suspension with full pay amounting to E16 million which was a cost to government for employees who were getting paid without doing any work.


It was at this point that the Mangcongco MP asked why the courts did not have any backlogs on cases involving drink-driving offences.
“Why do you expedite them so quickly and instead of making these cases drag for years, you are the ones who quickly let these people get off the hook?” asked MP Zikalala.


In response, Msimango tried to state that the reason that they had a backlog on other cases, especially at the magistrates courts was that the magistrates also had to visit circuit courts in the various regions of the country.
However, Zikalala said it was unfortunate that at the moment, there were about 47 civil servants who were being paid while on suspension and their matters were not being heard.


He said this had cost government a loss of about E16 million in salaries and over E500 000 in housing allowances.
“Is there an instrument to check the judge or magistrate himself if he is sober or not because sometimes they really give the wrong rulings?” asked Zikalala.
He was supported by Chairperson of the PAC, MP Phila Buthelezi, who asked why drink-drivers seemed to get special treatment.


MP Zikalala asked why drink-driving cases did not drag for years, particularly because there was not much money involved in their prosecution.
As if on a roll, the Mangcongco MP submitted that alcohol or hangover symptoms seemed to also spill into the Master’s Office as the service was also wanting.


He said civil servants at the Master’s Office were also very rude, particularly at the Manzini Branch.


Hangovers


“It is like they come to work with hangovers (baneli bhabhalazi) because they are very rude,” said Zikalala.
He said the government officers made fools out of people who had come for genuine assistance.


On the drink-driving cases, the MP wondered who was present to supervise the judicial officers to ensure that they were not intoxicated when they heard matters, especially since some of them were on duty very early in the morning.


In defence of the Judiciary, High Court Registrar Siphiwo Masuku said for example in 2018, they had asked for more posts of judicial officers to preside over cases, especially in the magistrates courts. Masuku said, however in 2018, they were given only three posts for magistrates.


“For example, in the criminal department, we had matters that dated back to 2001, but now we are happy to announce that the backlog only starts in 2012,” said Masuku.


She said similarly with civil matters, the cases only dated back to 2009.
Masuku said the challenge was that even though acting judges were hired to minimise the backlog, the judicial officers did not have support staff in the form of secretaries, clerks or interpreters. “On the issue of drink-driving, the law is strict that such matters should be heard within 48 hours and it is not like we are giving them special treatment,” said Masuku.


However, MP Zikalala was adamant that drink-driving suspects really received special treatment when government should be concentrating on more serious issues which cost government financial losses.


MP Zikalala said he was deeply concerned if the judges themselves were sober.
He again brought up the subject when the Auditor General revealed that about E834 000 worth of cheques from the Guardian Fund under the Master’s Office had not been claimed until they expired

.
Work


He claimed that this was because the officers at the Master’s office went to work with hangovers.
This was particularly after an accounts officer at the office of the Master gave an excuse that some of the beneficiaries did not claim the money because they feared that they would be haunted by the deceased owners of the estates.


“Others do not claim the money because they fear that batopokelwa (they will be haunted) by the deceased,” said the accounts officer.
MP Zikalala said the Master’s Office should engage in means like radio announcements to try and trace beneficiaries instead of allowing cheques to go unclaimed for over a year.


The Judiciary said it was looking at means of trying to send the money to beneficiaries through banks instead of issuing cheques.

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