Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Seychelles Column - By Christopher Gill

Judiciary Needs Money

The time to put our heads in the sand has past. Today, we face a critical situation in the Judiciary, one of three branches of Government in our democracy. The members are appointed by the Executive Branch and are not elected. Recruitment is done overseas, when locally judges can be selected. Staff are civil servants. Some judges enjoy contract arrangements.

A Little Background

Under Chief Justice Allear, a Mauritian national, this branch of government had collapsed for years, but the staff remained silent or at least not vocal enough to stop the collapse. Allear ruled in an autocratic manner like most chief justices do, but the traditional is to serve justice, not ones pocket. Allear’s office was always lined with a bench and the amount of citizens that sat on it made the court look as if it was a social welfare money packet collection center.

Upon the departure of Allear, Bernadin Renaud, a Justice, took over as Chief Justice Interim. Justice Renaud is no stranger to Seychelles. He presided over the Constitutional Commission, and was Ombudsman for a number of years, a post that was created at the suggestion of Mr. Mancham, but in all likelihood, a post that fit Renauds’ public persona.

As Interim Chief Justice, Renaud promised to clear up the backlog of cases and get on with the work of the day. He did not present any grand plans and held a seminar with Court staff to keep the plug on the tub so to speak, hoping the Michel Administration would make him a permanent Chief Justice.

However, Renaud’s court decisions were frowned upon by some SPPF and now Parti LePep (LP) hierarchy. They opted to bring in a Judge from Uganda who has promised to sort out the courts and appoint Seychellois magistrates to vacant seats on the bench. We must welcome the new Chief Justice at this time, not because we agree with the appointment, as we do not even know the man, but because, we need some serious help. Any help if it is on offer in good faith to secure a court worthy of a modern society. After all, we used to have an exemplary British Court system in place that was destroyed by no other than former President Rene and his SPUP/SPPF party.

Crisis Sets in After Collapse

Most recently a number of magistrates resigned prompting an immediate crisis to emerge in the Judiciary Branch of government. Without Magistrates, criminal cases cannot proceed. That means the 300 accused and alleged criminals remain out on bail, another daunting task for prosecution by the Attorney General’s office that is short of lawyers needed to prosecute criminals.

Consequently, the Public must deal with these shady elements on a daily basis as the system has failed not the accused so much as the innocent, Seychellois citizens, whom expect reasonably, that the government of the day will protect them. If crime increases, you will know why it does.

If the Attorney General cannot adequately prosecute, the Magistrates courts cannot expeditiously put culprits and accused on trial in reasonable time. The Judiciary cannot transcribe proceedings of courts, and the waiting time currently for that is 3 years for a case back log. We are in deep trouble.

Vote The Money For The Courts

The Judiciary needs an immediate large cash injection in the numbers we have not seen before in our history. They need automated transcribers that are cheap on the electronics market. That is the easy part. But salaries are too low for staff. They immediately require at least 100% increase in salary for civil service staffers. Judges from magistrates up to the Justices in the Supreme Court of Seychelles need an increase of at least 50% to bring their package in line with the standard set by Government for the new Chief Justice.

This salary package must be retroactive, to back pay the staff of the courts that have made great sacrifice to keep this branch of government going while it has collapsed and failed them as professionals.

Intentional Neglect

The financial neglect of the Judiciary is not a haphazard event. It has been systematic, year after year. Somehow, one gets the feeling that Albert Rene and James Michel wanted the Judiciary to fail. Only they know why. But of course, total control has been in the Executive branch since the Coup D’Etat in 1977, instead of leaving the Judiciary as an independent branch. The Government has shown no political will to fund the Judiciary adequately and employ competent capable judges in sufficient numbers in order that justice is served and seen to be served.

Failure To Act Now

The misfiring of justice has deterred serious investments in our country. It continues to kill investments, curtail FDI and dwindle down the offshore business sector. In fact, this industry which was advocated by Mr. Paul Chow during the early days of the multi-party system, is now undergoing more abuse than ever and its image has been tarnished by the Financial Investigation Unit (FIU) which seems to have its own agenda and has no comprehension of our laws. Mr. Chow gave SPPF a viable business option and created a third pillar of our economy. Now SPPF-LP has severely damaged the offshore business. Too much greed is a bad thing, even offshore.

The offshore sector with a failing Judiciary will attract more shady businesses and crooks while it will scare off legitimate investors. This phenomenon will adversely affect our bottom line, that is, how much money Seychelles can earn and whether or not it can remove itself from the economic depression doldrums. A failing judiciary will mean a failing society. It will mean our people will get poorer and poorer each year while this branch of government is left to die a slow death as initially intended.

The Final Word

The Judiciary does not have months or years to act. The Executive Branch does not have weeks or days to delay funding. Priority funds must be made available to the Judiciary in order that it can clean its house, and set this critical branch of government on the right track. Surely the Justice Department is more important than a new District Administration building or Jj Spirit funds to win votes. If we can afford boats for the NDEA, if we can afford high-salaried Irish and Australian expatriates, if we can pay hundreds of millions to the French for managing PUC, if we can disburse millions to the Army to fund the anti-piracy project only to let pirates go free, if we can pay millions every year in bonus schemes to politicians and ministers, if we can allow our Ministers and Principal Secretaries and other Government officials to fly in First and Business Class, if we can pay our Central Bank management millions in annual bonuses, then SURELY we can afford to fund our Judiciary branch of Government.

After all, we can all agree, it has been on the wrong track of administration of justice for far too long. Thirty-two years is simply too long. And that is 32 years too late. The real citizens of Seychelles (LEPEP) are watching and waiting to judge by your actions!

May God Bless Seychelles And All Freedom Loving Seychellois!


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