via Judges demand farms – NewsDay Zimbabwe June 25, 2014 by Feluna Nleya
FIVE newly-appointed High Court judges have approached the Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement demanding commercial farms under the land reform and resettlement programme, NewsDay has learnt.
Besides the commercial farms, the judges have also demanded new court robes and other professional regalia, saying they could not continue using second-hand garments inherited from long-retired judges.
The appeal, according to correspondence shown to NewsDay, was initiated by Judge President Justice George Chiweshe on May 15 this year on behalf of Justices Erica Ndewere, Esther Muremba, Owen Tagu, Nokuthula Moyo and Amy Tsanga.
In the letter, Justice Chiweshe petitioned the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) chairperson Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku to facilitate the allocation of farms to the five High Court appointees as an incentive for them.
JSC acting secretary Justice Rita Makarau on June 17 wrote back to Justice Chiweshe acknowledging receipt of the request and pledged to facilitate the deal.
Part of Makarau’s letter read: “On 15 May 2014, you addressed a memo to the Chief Justice requesting that a request for land allocation from Justices Ndewere, Tsanga, Tagu, Moyo and Muremba be forwarded to the relevant Ministry. In turn, the Chief Justice handed over the memo to us for actioning.”
Justice Makarau confirmed that the Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement had since responded to the judges’ request.
She asked Justice Chiweshe to furnish the JSC with the judges’ personal information to help Lands and Rural Resettlement secretary Sophia Tsvakwi to expedite the farm allocations.
“Kindly arrange for us to have the requested information at the earliest possible for onward transmission to Mrs Tsvakwi,” Justice Makarau, who is also Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, wrote.
Tsvakwi in a letter dated June 11 said: “I would like to acknowledge receipt of your letter requesting for allocation of land to judges of the High Court of Zimbabwe. Would you please furnish us with information on ID numbers, addresses and the preferred provinces to enable us to link up with the respective provinces.”
Several judges have courted a storm after they were allocated farmland with the public arguing that the land offer would compromise their judicial independence as they would be deemed to be pro-Zanu PF.
Some of the top judges that have benefited from the land reform programme include Justices Chinembiri Bhunu, Ben Hlatshwayo, Chidyausiku and David Mangota, among others.
Legal experts yesterday said allocation of farms to judges was likely to impair their independence.
Lawyer Chris Mhike said: “There can be no argument about the importance of richly rewarding our judicial officers — judges and magistrates. They occupy an honourable office, and they serve a critical role to our democracy and societal organisation.
“Competitive remuneration of judges and magistrates would obviously help in eradicating, or at least minimising corruption in the justice delivery system and it would strengthen the independence of the judiciary.
“However, if that remuneration would be in the form of allocations of farms, we could face serious challenges for a number of reasons.
“First, most farms come with a great deal of controversy, arising out of the manner in which many farms were violently expropriated by the government.
“Judges and magistrates should, as much as possible, be free of any controversy.”
Constitutional expert Greg Linington said: “I am not surprised that the judges want to be allocated land, but it’s not a positive move to have judges allocated land as it gives the impression that they are accountable to the State. They should be independent and not receive anything from the State as it will give a wrong impression.”
Another lawyer who declined to be named said: “Judges should be properly remunerated to the extent that if any judicial officer is interested in farming, he or she should have enough money to buy a farm and employ a manager, or — more desirably — go into farming with sufficient resources upon retirement from the bench.”