The Judiciary on Tuesday failed to justify before the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on why it had delayed banking for a period ranging between four days to 314 days involving over K1 million.
When asked to justify those delays, Judiciary Chief Administrator Nalishebo Imataa said it was difficult for her to justify a wrong of delayed banking at Kitwe, Lusaka, and Kasama courts, but hastened to say that the responsible officers had already been dismissed.
But Imataa said starting December, 2018, court clerks would be curtailed from handling cash.
This was when Imataa and her judicial staff appeared before PAC to respond to audit queries cited in the Auditor General’s Report for the financial year ended December 31, 2017.
“The only way to remedy this situation is to stop officers from handling cash, which we already started and for Atlas Mara, actually, they have already provided deposit slips at the point of sale machines and we are still working hand-in-hand with Zanaco. So, we are hoping that by December, we should have curtailed the handling of cash by our clerks. Chair, indeed there is no excuse on delayed banking, there is no justification whatsoever and in my submission I did indicate that this trend was before the clerks [who] were trained. But to completely eliminate this also, chair, we are going by way of just having the litigants just deposit money at the bank as well as the point of sale machine. But chair, that is why I indicated that there is no justification as to that, and that is why the responsible officers were charged and dismissed because there is really no justification. Even me, here, coming to defend such a thing, I can’t defend because it’s totally wrong,” Imataa responded before the Committee.
And Committee Chairperson Howard Kunda summoned the Sheriff to take a front seat and respond to issues surrounding the poor maintenance of seized goods and poor management of the warehouses.
In his response to his specific query, Sheriffs of Zambia Lameck Ngambi told the Committee that lack of space to store seized items, as well as high rentals fees was the biggest challenge to his department.
“Our problem has been mostly lack of facilities, where to store the goods. We might want to take proactive measures, but we still don’t have places where to take the goods. If we had alternative places where we can take the goods that we seize, I think that would really help us because even if we take proactive measures, we don’t know where to take those goods to. We tried to engage people that could rent us properties, but the rentals were too high,” Ngambi explained.
And in supplementing the Sheriffs’ response, Imataa further told the Committee that there was a shortage of court rooms from the Constitutional Court all the way down to the local courts.
She added that some local courts were even sitting under trees due to the same problem and appealed to the Treasury to look into their plight.
“It’s actually good that the members of parliament are raising this issue because I don’t think it’s only the Sheriffs of Zambia, which is faced with the issue of inadequate space. Chair, we have even the superior courts starting from the Constitutional Court, [which is] still sitting at Lusaka with only two court rooms and then housed in the Supreme Court where there are 13 judges [and] no chambers. Some of the judges actually sit in the conference room. The local courts, some of them chair sit under a tree, there are no court houses! The subordinate courts actually are crammed up,” Imataa bemoaned.
“At the provincial High Courts, we don’t even have High Court structures. When the High Court goes to circuit there, they have to displace the subordinate courts, meaning that the subordinate court will not be able to sit for that period, the 21 days [when] the High Court is there. So, chair, these are matters that we’ve written to the Secretary to Treasury (Fredson Yamba), even when we are given the budget sealing to budget, we do appeal to say; ‘we need court structures.’ And we can only say and appeal to the Treasury to give us money to build the facilities that are required.”
In conclusion, Kunda said despite the slight improvement in the report under review, it was still important for the Judiciary to address all the challenges and issues raised.
“In 2015, you had five queries and the amount that was relating to those five queries was K1.062, 261; 2016, it shot to 14 queries involving K2.601,781, [and] the current year that we are dealing with, 2017, you went down to seven queries. There has been an improvement of the queries, but their amount still surpasses the amount of 2015, and that is K1.469,322. So, to us, this indicates that there is a lot of work that has to be done. Of course, you have improved from 2016 analysis. These issues are involving finances. So, it is very important, controlling officer, that these issues are addressed,” advised Kunda.