Motswaledi’s legal bill opens debate on funding of Constitutional cases
Gomolemo Motswaledi’s legal bill has opened a debate on the need for constitutional cases to be funded.
The interim leader of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) finally paid his legal debt that arose from his unsuccessful High Court challenge of President Lieutenant General Ian Khama’s Presidential powers, after a concerted fund raising campaign by his party
Speaking at a press conference last week to announce the settlement of the Botswana Democratic Party’s (BDP) legal costs, Botsalo Ntuane, interim deputy chairman of the BMD, who is also leader of the Opposition, said the time had arrived to engage other stakeholders about the means to fund constitutional cases. He said these kinds of cases affect many people.
Ntuane pointed out that the large membership of political parties does not necessarily translate into resources; political party funding is also very important, he observed.
In an interview with The Gazette, University of Botswana political lecturer, Dithapelo Keorapetse, said in other countries, South Africa being a case in point, constitutional cases are funded.
Referring to Motswaledi’s case he said: “This was a pro-democracy case that affected ordinary people.” Dithapelo said South Africa has a developed civil society that stands up for its people. He challenged Botswana’s civil society to help fund cases of this nature; they could have mobilized funds to pay Motswaledi’s legal obligations, he said.
The Executive Director of the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA), who is also a human rights advocate, Uyapo Ndadi, agreed with Keorapetse.
“It is true that constitutional cases costs are usually not awarded to losing parties,” he said; this strengthens the jurisprudence of the country and its judicial system.
Ndadi said such cases enable citizens to gauge their democracy. “The door must be open to litigants, if they are afraid, it will naturally deter them from approaching the courts of law,” he observed.
He said Motswaledi’s case will be cited for many years to come; it has shown that the President is untouchable. “There are civil societies that are created for public interest litigation cases and that fund such cases,” he observed.
Ndadi pointed to the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which funds human rights cases. The SALC is currently supporting efforts to challenge the constitutionality of Botswana’s Media Practitioners Act (MPA).
In its website the SALC states that it promotes and advances human rights and the rule of law in southern Africa, primarily through strategic litigation support and capacity building.
“The SALC provides technical and monetary support to local and regional lawyers and organizations in litigating human rights and rule of law cases in the region. The SALC also provides training in human rights and rule of law issues and facilitates networks of human rights lawyers and organizations throughout southern Africa.”
The SALC works in the following countries: Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.