The Judiciary has transferred over 40 officers that include magistrates, court clerks and accountants as one way of addressing corruption claims as raised by Justice Esmie Chombo.
The Judiciary, however, clarified that it did not mean that the 40-plus officers sent on transfers are linked to the corrupt claims, but said it was a preventive measure in rooting out factors that encourage people to bribe officers due to familiarity.
Justice Chombo, based at High Court’s Lilongwe Registry and as Judge President, blew the whistle in January in a letter to Malawi Law Society (MLS) that she had been informed that some lawyers pay court staff to tamper with case files to frustrate case proceedings.
Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal and the High Court of Malawi registrar Agnes Patemba disclosed, in an interview last week, that the transfers were a way of addressing complaints the Lilongwe registry president raised.
She said some officers have been suspended pending disciplinary hearings over the corrupt claims.
But MLS expressed reservations, in an interview, if transferring the officers was an effective solution to the problems facing the Judiciary.
MLS president Mwiza Nkhata said the fears expressed by Chombo were not unique, explaining that the lawyers’ body two years ago also conducted consultations across the nation and within the legal fraternity and they found the same problems the judge raised.
He disclosed that with delays experienced in the justice delivery system, some lawyers, conniving with court officers, get involved in malpractices to fast-track court proceeding, including tampering with case files.
Some of the affected officers described the transfers as unfair, saying no convincing reasons were provided.
“Ordinarily, when you are being transferred, you are verbally told before a letter is written or issued as a matter of courtesy.
“There are situations where other institutions have withdrawn from transferring an employee after hearing some convincing reasons why they could not be transferred. In our case, others have spouses in the base they were operating and could not operate away from them, they should have been considerate,” said the source.
The source said the Judiciary management should have pinned down those they suspected are corrupt, arguing the move would have negative impact and drawback on this arm of government.
Another source said the Judiciary is not paying disturbance allowances to the transferred officers, yet others have moved from Blantyre to Mzuzu or Lilongwe and from the Shire Valley districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje to Blantyre or Zomba or other districts.
The source said that so far, half the number of those transferred has not moved and others are contemplating retirement.
The Judiciary registrar said she had no knowledge about officers contemplating retirement, adding it would be within the officers’ right to resign and that refusing a transfer was a disciplinary issue.
Asked if cross-transferring officers to curb the corruption claims, not the same as transferring corruption to another place, Patemba said administratively such measures help to bring sanity at a workplace.
She dismissed claims that the Judiciary was not paying them allowances to look for houses, saying allowances are being duly paid and transport provided.
Patemba said the officers implicated in corruption claims with lawyers are undergoing disciplinary hearings.
She dismissed claims that transferring the officers is the same as transferring corruption, arguing the Judiciary should not have remained quiet when it had knowledge about some corrupt officers.
The registrar disclosed that there are situations where some individuals have written her office to lodge complaints regarding corrupt claims among the Judiciary officers.
Patemba said: “In some cases where some people have written our office, matters have been referred to Judicial Integrity Committee to investigate. Where people have evidence, we ask them to report to us for necessary action.
“As an institution, we thought some of these things might have been happening due to overstaying at one duty station, and familiarity with court users may lead to involvement in such malpractice.”
The MLS president said problems of court officials getting bribes from lawyers to tamper with case files have been there for a long time.
He said the lawyers’ body would keep on engaging the Chief Justice to ensure that these problems are resolved.
Justice Chombo, in her letter to MLS, alleged that some court officers were being lured with money to prioritise work for certain legal houses.
The court officers, the judge alleged, also remove documents of counsel representing the other party so as to mislead the court that the party failed to file the necessary documents prior to the date of hearing.
The officers, according to information Chombo said she received, insert documents in files when the same was not done at the right time to give the impression that the same was filed at the right time.