The Ministry of Justice is bound to realise that the administration of justice does not come cheap as the ministry has already spent N$516 020.65 on witness fees alone and at this rate it is expected to spend a total of N$2 million by the end of the financial year The Villager can reveal.
This revelation has resulted in the Ministry of Justice raising concerns over incidences were the ministry is taken for a ride by unscrupulous witnesses who are supposed to give evidence in criminal matters and conniving court officials.
The payment of witness fees are said to have become a lucrative business venture due to the negligence of court officials conniving with such persons.
Payments to witness had been reviewed after witnesses complained that they were not paid enough for travelling and the amount of money paid is determined according to government rates per town.
Prosecutor General Martha Imawla has particularly taken issues over a recent case that was brought to the attention of her office where witnesses in excess of 40 people were subpoenaed to testify in a court case, which is more than the number of witnesses any court can handle in one day.
‘’ We have a recent case that was set down to be heard over a period of five days in which witnesses in excess of 40 were subpoenaed to go to the court but the matter failed to kick off. Despite that, an amount N$32 101 was paid out to witnesses over a period of two days which witnesses didn’t even testify but are more likely to be called up again. It certainly means that the state will have to spend more money on the same witnesses should they be called up in the future as the case is still pending,’’ noted Imalwa.
She said this was not an isolated case and this situation clearly highlighted that some prosecutors are not always acting with utmost care and due diligence when preparing for cases that they are handling.
‘’On top of that according to a circular dated May 2016, the Prosecutor General’s office has received reports whereby some clerks of the court connive with witnesses and the investigating officers handling certain cases who present false summons of witnesses that would ordinarily not be entitled to witness paid fees claiming they have travelled long distance with vehicles of high engine capacity. Complainants are reported to lay charges within areas they would ordinarily not be entitled to witness fees and some instead of travelling with public transport due to the lucrativeness of the business are hiring private vehicles to come to court. This is negligence and it is hereby condemned in the strongest term. If that sort of irresponsibility goes unabated it will force the government to be accountable for financial loss,’’ said Imalwa.
She said if there any court officials caught conniving with witnesses they should be reported because it is a criminal offense.
‘’Such a case cannot be ruled out because previously I know our offices persecuted people who were involved in such a matter,’’ she adds.
Prosecutors are the people who subpoena witnesses to come to court however at times, due to unforeseen circumstances court cases may not proceed on days they are intended to. The Namibian Magistrate system is faced with challenges of being understaffed with a few interpreters, magistrates and prosecutors. This means court cases cannot proceed if one of them is not available on a particular day.
Imalwa said at times interpreters who are employed on a causal basis and are paid on a service provision basis may not turn up for work without notifying prosecutors and this results on witnesses having been subpoenaed for nothing but would still have to be paid. While witnesses who travel from abroad also have to be paid for transportation, accommodation and loss of income for the days they should have been at work.
She said prosecutors were under duty to stop witnesses from travelling when cases cannot go ahead.
‘’There are directives from my office on how prosecutors should plan their cases. Even if one is so competent there is no way so many witnesses can appear in court and a case can be finalised in one day. Prosecutors can summon some of the witnesses while others can be on standby and be given one day in advance. There is no reason why witnesses should be subpoenaed in big numbers all at once,’’ charged Imalwa.