Court users in the country must brace for slow delivery of justice as the Judiciary will be operating on an extremely low budget of K1.2 billion as opposed to the K6 billion it proposed for this fiscal year.
The Judiciary stands out as one of the institutions that have been poorly funded in the 2014/15 financial year, cutting home only 20 percent of what it bargained for.
The K1.2 billion, according to Judiciary spokesperson Joseph Chigona, is for ORT (other related transactions).
In a response to a questionnaire, Chigona said out of the K1.2 billion, the Judiciary has to pay entitlements such as fuel and medical schemes for judges and senior officers as well as utilities for all courts.
Apart from the K1.2 billion, the Judiciary was also allocated K594 000 000 for operations.
Said Chigona: “The K1.2 billion amount has to carter for Judicial Policy (office of the Chief Justice), Supreme Court, High Court (all regions) and all magistrate’s courts (Nsanje to Chitipa) Industrial Relations Court (all regions), Child Justice Courts, Community Service Directorate, Sheriff Section and administration.
“This amount is not enough to effectively and efficiently discharge our constitutional mandate. Our ideal budget is almost K6 billion.”
But Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Samuel Tembenu, while sympathising with the Judiciary, said all government institutions have not received what they asked for “because the public purse is small”.
Tembenu said: “This happens almost every year. I know that is not enough, but everybody had a cut from what they proposed. Money is not there and we had to do with what we have.”
Malawi Law Society (MLS) expressed sadness over the development, fearing that the ordinary person is the one to suffer the consequences of the low funding because they would not be able to access justice.
MLS secretary Felisah Kilembe said the low funding would “obviously affect court operations”.
Kilembe said: “There are cases where judicial officers have to go to the crime scenes, this may not be possible with such poor funding. Malawians will obviously suffer injustices. It is sad.”
Justice Link executive director Justin Dzonzi, a lawyer by profession, said the low funding will affect operations of the Judiciary in terms of its ability to meet the demand from people in running internal operations.
Dzonzi said murder trials, that have also suffered a blow as they previously benefited from donor aid, would also be affected.
He said Malawians must anticipate slow delivery of justice and inaccessibility to courts.
Dzonzi, however, said the nation has to accept Malawi is poor and people will have to live with this inadequate funding to government institutions for sometime longer.
Dzonzi said: “This is one sign of poverty; it will be naive for anyone to think that there will be a government that will give all the funding to its departments.
“We should be looking at cheaper ways of doing things; this will not stop anytime soon. It is time we begin to live within our limits.”
The human rights activist also noted that some of Judiciary’s problems have nothing to do with poor funding.
He questioned how a judge would fail to deliver a judgement for a case that was concluded in 2011 or how a judge would fail to appear in court when a matter is due.
Dzonzi recommended cheaper ways of dispensing justice, disclosing that in a year, only 10 percent of Malawi’s 16 million population go to courts.
Malawi’s main donors, who were financing 40 percent of the recurrent budget, froze aid following plunder of public funds at Capital Hill by public servants in a syndicate with private firms, that widely came to be known as Cashgate under the administration of the immediate past president Joyce Banda.
The donor budgetary support freeze prompted the new administration of Peter Mutharika to work out a zero-aid budget of K742 billion with a K107 billion deficit.n