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Judiciary, Executive Wrangle Threatening Security

LILONGWE: The wrangle between the judiciary and the executive over a pay package decision by parliament six years ago threatens to tear asunder the security system as industrial action by judiciary workers continues.

The strike is in its third week but government has dubbed it illegal.

The executive wants the workers back at work as discussions continue.

The Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), the umbrella body for over 100 human rights organizations in the country, has since said the executive branch of the Malawi government has a legal obligation to implement the revised pay package decision made by in 2006.

HRCC Acting Coordinator, Reverend Macdonald Sembereka, told Zodiak Online that a prolonged misunderstanding between the two branches of government will have devastating effect as rights of citizens seeking justice continue to be violated in the country.

“This is a rights issue indeed though there are cases where we need to act on discretion. Most of those in custody tend to be under minor offenses to which the police can grant bail- it would appear the police is acting ignorant of the situation.”

“Further, this is reason enough for government to expedite dealing with the matter of the judiciary staff grievances with the urgency it requires given the challenging environment in police cells currently,” says Reverend Sembereka.

The misunderstandings between the Judiciary and the Executive branch of the Malawi government are dictates of the law and policy. Meanwhile, the ordinary citizens are caught in between filling up police and prison cells with no access to justice as all courts are shut down.

A week into the strike, prison spokesperson, Mr. Evance Phiri reported that prison facilities in Malawi held 400 more prisoners more than they should normally accommodate.

The issue of contention is a push by workers in the judiciary for implementation of new pay packages as approved by Parliament in 2006. Government is reluctant to do so immediately arguing that doing so would have multiple social-economic implications.

But Sembereka argues that the Executive has a legal obligation to expeditiously implement the decision by Parliament so that the industrial action ends and the citizenry enjoy their right to accessing courts. Access to timely justice is part of the Malawi Constitution and the African Charter.

He also added that the position taken by the executive on the matter cannot match the prerequisites provided for under the terms of engagement for the judicial staff- unless Executive would like all to believe that all the Judiciary staff is in breach of their own conditions of service.

“That needs to be negotiated with the striking staff and where possible agreeable terms must be found. Government has overlooked its obligation such that it’s now reacting as if this was not known to it before- they should not feign ignorance- the judicial staff members have been patient when everyone else including cabinet ministers had their perks increased.”

“Let government come out clear with clear terms of engagement with the judiciary staff.”

Wapona Kita, a private practice lawyer, also believes ordinary citizens are the victims of this legal-policy fight between the Judiciary and the Executive arms of government.

“There is a saying that when two elephants are fighting, it is the grass that suffers. Here you have two arms of government, the judiciary and the executive, wrestling over salary hike arrears.” Kita says, “It is the common man seeking justice that is suffering most here and the quicker the solution is found, the better for all of us. The issue here is direct and straightforward. It just needs  implementation on the part of the executive,” he says.

Kita added that for as long as government is not bankrupt, the understanding is that the executive has the resources to pay off the arrears to workers in the judiciary.

A senior official in government told Zodiak Online that implementation of the demands by the judiciary workers has negative economic implications. He said it would also ignite other fresh issues.—Zodiak Online

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