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Magistrates pocket 1.25bn/- for no work

20th December 2012
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  Current law locks them out of primary courts
Chief Justice, Mohamed Othman Chande

The government has spent 1.25bn/- in the past six months as salaries for 372 resident magistrates who were assigned to work in primary courts but are not legally allowed to serve in the courts.

A source within the judiciary, who preferred anonymity, told the Guardian that it was surprising that the government didn't seem concerned about the financial waste on the magistrates.

He explained that under the judicial salary structure, a resident magistrate is paid a gross salary of about 600,000/-, with annual increments depending on various factors such as experience and knowledge.

“How can the government afford to spend such a huge amount of money on people who are not working?” he wondered.

“They are aware that the Magistrates' Courts Act has got no provision for resident magistrates to work in primary courts. It should have been amended before appointing them. The amount will keep increasing because an amendment to the Act is yet to take place,” he pointed out.

The Magistrates' Courts Act Section 11 (6) states that a resident magistrate is not entitled to sit in primary courts, except in district courts as well as resident magistrates courts.

“The Act not only harms our economy as the money would have been used for other good causes, but also denies people justice, as justice delayed is justice denied,” he said.

Tanzania currently has a total of 1,105 primary courts. They handle both criminal and civil cases.

Civil cases on property and family matters that apply customary law or Islamic law must be initiated at the primary court, where the magistrate sits with lay assessors.

On the other hand, the country has 22 resident magistrates’ courts and 109 district courts, both of which have concurrent jurisdiction. However, district courts, unlike resident magistrates’ courts, are found in almost all the districts in Tanzania.

Resident magistrates’ courts are located in major towns, municipalities and cities, which serve as regional headquarters.

When swearing in the now non-working resident magistrates, Chief Justice Mohamed Othman Chande said: “For the first time we have employed 300 magistrates with a law degree who are to be sent to primary courts as 70 per cent of court cases are there. Therefore, go there and provide justice.”

When reached for comment over the phone, Mathias Chikawe, minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, said: “I don’t know you...we need to be very cautious when speaking on the phone. So, just come to my office as I am available today (on Monday) and tomorrow (yesterday).”

When this reporter reached the ministry he was told that the minister had just left the premises, upon which the reporter sent him a mobile message about missing him at the office.

Chikawe replied: “My advice to you is that you will be well briefed by the chief court administrator who is the employer. He will tell you each and every thing concerning judges' and magistrates' recruitment, payments and why he is paying such and such. Come to me if you want to know about anything that has to do with policy, not administration.”

When The Guardian reached Hussein Kattanga, the chief court administrator, he told this reporter through his secretary that he was not in a position to respond to his queries, and requested him to go to the Chief Registrar, Ignas Kitusi.

But at Kitusi's office his secretary said her boss was away and she had no idea when he would be back.

Last June the judiciary employed 300 resident magistrates and upgraded 72 primary court magistrates after they had acquired a degree in law.

The 372 resident magistrates were to serve in primary courts countrywide to improve quality of service, fairness as well as to speed up court proceedings.

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN