Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Samuel Tembenu has said judges and magistrate who will be withholding their labour from Wednesday to join the ongoing judiciary strike will be acting unconstitutionally.
The Judiciary has asked government to implement a salary adjustment for its staff to correspond with that of the civil service, as per Clause 44 (2) of the Judiciary’s conditions of service, but with agreed percentages specifically for Judiciary.
The demands of the Judiciary are contained in a letter which Supreme Court of Appeal judge Lovemore Chikopa, who chairs the Working Committee on the Terms and Conditions of Service of the Judiciary, wrote to the Attorney General copied to Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Chief Secretary to the Government, Solicitor General, principal secretary for the Department of Human Resource Management and Development (DHRMD), chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament and Ministry of Finance budget director
The Judiciary’s demands included a new Toyota VX V8 engine vehicle for the Chief Justice and 36 new vehicles for judges, which are estimated to cost K1.6 billion and free housing for staff.
The executive arm of government says the demands will not be met due to current economic turmoil.
Reacting to impending strike by judges and magistrates who threatened to join judicial support staff, Justice Minister Tembenu said “by deciding to go on strike, as an arm of Government, the Judiciary is effectively abdicating its constitutional responsibilities.”
Tembenu said the Judiciary is aware that Government (which includes the Judiciary, Legislature and Executive) is actively pursuing cashgate cases in the courts and that the Judiciary is a key player in the handling of these cases.
“It is general knowledge that the cashgate cases have generated national, regional and international interest. Therefore, the Judiciary’s stated intention to go on strike at this point is tantamount to holding the people of Malawi to ransom. In any case, it is a tragedy for a whole arm of Government to shut down in the manner proposed and deny the people of Malawi their right to access justice,” state the Justice Minister.
Tembenu said the Judiciary’s demand for a salary adjustment corresponding to the adjustments occasioned by the restructured salaries in the Civil Service is unacceptable.
“For that demand to be accommodated, it will defeat the whole purpose of the harmonization policy adopted by Government in 2005. In any event, it is an anomaly to describe the salary restructuring and harmonization as a general increment and to be used as a basis for the current demand,” said Tembenu.
“Further, in line with section 114 of the Constitution which provides ‘that salaries, allowances and benefits of holders of Judicial office shall be increased at intervals so as to retain their original value’, Government offered to bring the salaries of the Judiciary to the same level as those obtaining in the Civil Service and to add on top of that a 15% increment.
“This proposed adjustment would have put the salaries of the Judiciary above those in the Civil Service. The Judiciary has flatly rejected this proposal,” explained the minister.
Tembenu said government has engaged the Judiciary on their demands and has explained why they cannot be accommodated in full due to the current economic situation.
“The Judiciary has refused to compromise and this has led to the current impasse,” he said.
He faulted the Judiciary for interpreting their Terms and Conditions of Service as providing for purchase of new vehicles to every newly appointed Judge “though this is not expressly states in the Terms.”
On the salary adjustment, Justice Minister maintained that the position of government is that what has happened in the Civil Service is a “salary restructuring exercise and not a general increment “as envisaged in Judiciary’s Terms and Conditions of Service
Tembenu appealed to the judiciary “to live up to their constitutional mandate and responsibilities in the interest of the people of Malawi.”Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :