No justice for the poor in Mangochi
By Deogratias Mmana:
There are cries for justice from the poor people in Makanjira, 101 km away from Mangochi Boma. They cannot afford to travel to Mangochi Magistrate Court because they cannot manage K6,000 for transport. They have a dilapidated court but there is no magistrate.
Most of those with cases simply give up and suffer in silence. Those who happen to be arrested and taken to Mangochi Magistrate Court by the Police suffer in the cells without any relative to see them because of the long distance.
Anne Matemba, 24, from Makanjira said she did not visit her uncle, Fulanko Yusufu when he was arrested from Makanjira in 2019 for defilement and kept at Mangochi Police during trial of his case.
“None of the family members visited him. We cannot afford to raise K6,000 going to Mangochi Boma and back. We later heard, that he was sentenced and moved to Zomba Central Prison,” said Matemba.
The absence of a magistrate at Makanjira has led the people to lose confidence and trust in the police when the police refer back their cases to their traditional leaders for redress.
The absence of the magistrate has also exerted pressure on Makanjira police. Whenever the police go to Mangochi Boma with a suspect, security gets compromised because in the absence of the only vehicle that they have, they cannot respond to emergencies.
Officer in Charge at Makanjira Police, Macdonald Kachaje applauded local transporters in the area whom he said come to the police rescue whenever there is no fuel to travel to Mangochi. He said the police usually borrows fuel from the transporters.
‘No cases tried’
Senior Chief Makanjira said most of his subjects suffer in silence as they usually give up on cases.
“My people cannot manage to travel to Mangochi Boma for their cases. It is over 101 km from here, at Makanjira court to Mangochi Magistrate Court. For one to travel to Mangochi and return requires K6,000. Further, the road is bad and takes over five or six hours traveling one way,” said Makanjira.
Makanjira memorial court was built in 1956 and is undergoing renovations. The original structures at the place include a tax collector’s office, messenger’s office, two cells and a court.
“In the past, cases were heard at this court by chairmen. But government stopped that arrangement and since then, no cases have been tried at this court. We chiefs try most of the cases and sometimes the police refer cases to us,” said Makanjira.
‘We depend on donors’
Our investigations found that Mangochi District has nine courts of which four are not functioning. Those not functional include Makanjira, Chilipa, Mvumba and Namwera. The Makanjira scenario also applies to the other courts without magistrates.
Mangochi First Grade Magistrate Mtunduwatha Mpasu confirmed that four courts are not functional.
Mpasu said the situation in the district is so bad that people with civil matters have to travel all the way from Makanjira and other places to Mangochi Boma to access justice.
For criminal cases, Mpasu said the police makes arrests and transports the suspects to the Boma.
“Because of the distance, not many cases are reported here. People are just complaining without being heard. People are suffering in silence,” said Mpasu.
He said at times, the Magistrate from the Boma goes to Makanjira but on donor sponsorship.
“We depend on donors to go there. Our funding is insufficient to cater for everything,” said Mpasu who added that the monthly funding for the courts in Mangochi is usually largely for utilities and too little to serve the people.
“The courts need to be fully funded. Access to justice requires concerted efforts,” said Mpasu while admitting that the Mangochi situation is not attractive.
Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Mangochi Diocese (CCJP) said failure to dispense justice is tantamount to breaking the country’s Constitution.
Mangochi CCJP secretary Bruno Banda said there is a mismatch between resources at the hands of the judiciary and the number of people to be served.
He said there are about 50 resident magistrates and about 180 lay magistrates in the country against a population of about 19 million.
“Worse still, of the 19 million, most of the people, about 80 percent live in the rural areas meaning that these people are denied justice. So the demand for justice is high,” said Banda.
Commenting on the Makanjira saga, he said the distance and poor road and lack of infrastructure are some of the factors that are blocking justice for the people.
“Other factors are that the courts do not have adequate personnel, vehicles, fuel,” he said.
Banda said for the courts to move to rural areas, there is need to intensify mobile court clinics.
He also urged government to facilitate the implementation of the Local Courts Act which he said was enacted in 2011.
Judiciary admits challenges
High Court and Supreme Court Registrar Gladys Gondwe did not respond to our questionnaire which was sent to her on August 24, 2021 despite some reminders.
However, according to the Malawi Judiciary strategic plan for 2019 to 2024, geographical spread of courts is one of the concerns in the system.
The Judiciary admits that long distances to courts and other formal justice delivery institutions are prohibitive to many people to access justice.
Further, the Judiciary says such institutions tend to be located in urban and peri-urban centres of the country when over 80 percent of Malawians live in rural areas.
The Judiciary also says there is a high vacancy rates in the Judiciary.
“Judiciary has vacancies in both Judicial and non-judicial positions averaging 30 percent. For instance, the vacancy rate for High Court Judges is at 44 percent (26 of required 46). This challenge is compromising the performance of the Judiciary,” reads the plan.
According to the plan, funding is largely insufficient for the judiciary to function properly. It is currently receiving about 0.8 percent of the national budget, far below the 3 percent that the Judiciary requires to operate at an optimal level.
The strategic plan further decries the low public confidence in the Judiciary because of lack of accountability and corruption perception.