MASERU — Another storm is brewing in the troubled judiciary over huge allowances being paid to Court of Appeal judges, the Lesotho Times can reveal.
At a time when High Court judges and other judicial officers are struggling to make ends meet Court of Appeal judges are being handsomely rewarded for the short time they spend in the court and the few cases they hear.
This is also happening at a time when High Court and magistrates’ courts are facing serious financial problems.
So high are the allowances that in October last year two Court of Appeal judges returned a significant portion of their earnings, saying the huge pay cheques did not justify the work they had done in that session.
A High Court judge earns about M300 000 per year which translates to around M195 000 after tax.
Most judges say they are living hand-to-mouth.
Yet Court of Appeal judges who work an average 12 weeks per year are earning just under M700 000.
Highly confidential pay schedules seen by the Lesotho Times show that in 2012 the six Court of Appeal judges shared a whopping M8.7 million for the work they did in four sessions.
The total duration of those four sessions was around 12 weeks.
The schedules show that Court of Appeal President Justice Michael Ramodibedi earned a massive M1.9 million last year.
After a 35 percent tax was deducted Justice Ramodibedi earned M1 235 000, making him an instant millionaire.
Each of his judges in the Court of Appeal earned about M900 000 which came down to around M675 000 after a 25 percent tax.
Documents seen by this paper show that for last year’s October session which lasted about three weeks the Court of Appeal President earned M430 114.
For a pre-session allowance which he said lasted 15 days he got M82 866.
His allowance per day was M5 524.
Pre-session is the time he spent “reading all the records in both the interlocutory and the substantive rolls and preparation”.
The judge claimed per diem for 40 days at a rate of M8 681 per day.
That brought his total amount of per diems to M347 248. Out of the total of M430 114 the judge paid M150 540 in tax, leaving him with M279 574 in the pocket.
That is way more than the annual net pay of Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla who heads the High Court and other subordinate courts.
The chief justice earned about M400 000 last year.
That figure came down to about around M260 000 after tax.
Justice John Smalberger was paid M173 427 for 12 days of pre-session work and 19 for per diems.
Justice Graig Howie, Justice Douglas Scott and Lionel Justice Melunsky got the same mounts.
Documents show that after being told that they were going to earn M173 427 each Justice Howie and Justice Scott requested that their amounts be reduced.
A highly placed source in the Court of Appeal told the Lesotho Times that Justice Howie was disturbed that he had received almost the same amount for the January session which was way shorter than the October session.
The January session normally lasts one week while the October one lasts three weeks.
What worried the judge was that the amount paid for the two sessions was almost the same, the source said.
“He said it did not make sense that he would get the same amount of money for sessions whose lengths are substantially different,” the source said.
The document shows that the judge then refunded the government the amount he felt he did not deserve for the January session.
He gave back M93 502 which was classified in the payment schedule as “January 2012 over payment”.
Justice Scott felt he had been overpaid for the August session and returned M103 582 to the government.
The other judges, including Justice Ramodibedi, did not return a cent to the treasury.
While the Court of Appeal president and his judges were going home with hundreds of thousands of maloti High Court judges who had been invited to help with cases in the apex court earned tens of thousands.
Acting Justice Motiea Teele who resigned last week earned a gross of M39 460 and took home M25 649 after tax.
Justice Kananelo Mosito earned M59 190 but took home M38 473 after tax.
Last week Justice Ramodibedi said his allowance and that Court of Appeal judges is justified.
He said the rates that he uses to pay the allowances are in the government gazette.
“The truth is that I don’t create the rates. They are clearly stipulated in the government gazette,” Justice Ramodibedi said.
He said those comparing the earnings of High Court judges and Court of Appeal judges “are missing the point”.
“High Court judges earn salaries and Court of Appeal judges earn allowances.
“The two are incomparable,” said Justice Ramodibedi who is also the Chief Justice of Swaziland.
“This noise about what judges in the Court of Appeal earn is about money. It’s about people who think that Court of Appeal judges are earning too much money. I must be remunerated and so should judges in the Court of Appeal.”
Another source in the High Court said there is a belief among judiciary officers that the financial problems in the judiciary are a result of the Court of Appeal “getting the lion’s share of the resources”.
“The Court of Appeal is an ad hoc court but it has permanent staff.
“The judges are earning huge salaries for working about 12 weeks per year,” the source said.
“While the judges in the Court of Appeal get huge allowances the subordinate courts are broke”.
“At most, the Court of Appeal deals with 30 cases per year while the High Court deals with hundreds of cases.
“The lower courts deal with thousands of cases every year.
“It therefore cannot be fair that the Court of Appeal has a lion’s share of the budget.”
While Court of Appeal judges earn handsomely the junior officers at the Palace of Justice and subordinate courts are literally starving.
For instance a judge’s clerk earns a gross salary of M10 000.
The lowest paid employee in the judiciary earns a paltry M1 500 per month.
In other words the lowest paid employee in the judiciary will have to work for just under 24 years to earn what Justice Ramodibedi earned during the three weeks he spent working on the Court of Appeal’s October session last year.
If you consider that the president earned M1.8 million last year it would mean that the same employee will have to work for 100 years.