President Evariste Ndayishimiye walked to the podium on September 1, 2023 at the Ingoma Stadium in the political capital, Gitega. He was launching the 2023-2024 judicial year and the stadium was packed to full capacity.
The Judicial year was launched under the theme; “Judgments well rendered and implemented at the right time constitute justice which favors the population in the execution of development projects.”
It should be remembered that Ndayishimiye who served in the previous government of late President Pierre Nkurunziza, inherited very dysfunctional institutions marred by endemic corruption, insufficient funds, poor infrastructure and a problem of brain drain.
President Evariste Ndayishimiye spent more than fifteen minutes thrashing the magistrates to the great delight of the population. He accused the magistrates of sabotaging his government, non patriotic and mercenaries and that their conduct is very disgusting.
The Former rebel leader who gunned his way into power, assured the magistrates that himself studied Law at University and actually with most of those working within the judiciary.
Without mincing words, a seemingly disturbed President Ndayishimiye took a swipe at members of the judiciary whom he accuses of all sorts of evil doing and acting like mercenaries in their own country and ganging up with thieves to steal from the state among other vices.
“Someone stands in front of people and says I am a magistrate! Which magistrate? You are Satan,” Ndayishimiye says in an angry tone triggering much applause from people in the stadium.
The President banged his fist on the table: “If you want, prosecute me for high treason before the High Court of Justice because I am denouncing your faults. I know the law. We attended the same faculties.” The High Court of Justice already exists? Let’s move on.
The attentive population in the stadium applauded the President. “You can applaud. We are in the same boat. “Everything has its time”, He says.
“There is a time for injustice and a time to fight against injustice. The time of injustice is over. Before, you said that there are untouchables who prevent you from stating the law. They are no longer I swept your way? I was hoping for a change in behaviour. Today, who is stopping you from working well?” He gets other rounds of applause.
Ndayishimiye rejected claims from magistrates arguing about poor salaries. The “pretext” of very low salaries does not hold up. “With the population, we can collect the necessary means so that you can speak the law. (…) I know that you are not going to go straight. Chase away the natural, it always comes back at a gallop. If you don’t change your hearts, you won’t achieve anything. Change from this day!”
“This is the first time that I have seen a standoff between the head of state and the magistrates. There will be a day when I will be next to you during the hearings to see the outcome of the trials. There are no other strategies. I am the supreme magistrate. For your good or bad luck, I did the law like you. I don’t like what you are doing to the population.”
The seemingly angry President called on magistrates who believe they have integrity to come forward. “Do you realize that you are a mercenary in your own country? As you did not have a high salary, you became Nzihemba (I will get paid). I’m not afraid to say it because you are sabotaging me. Imagine magistrates who team up with bandits to steal state property!”
According to President Ndayishimiye, the cases in the justice system are numerous because there was a slowness in their execution and not because there are few magistrates. For President Ndayishimiye, all these failings are due to a lack of a patriotic spirit. ” It’s frustrating. I tried to advise you. Forewarned is forearmed.”
Magistrates Accuse Government of Interference
A magistrate who preferred anonymity but works at Mukaza Court of Appeal in Bujumbura notes that the interference of power in the work of magistrates as well as the poor living conditions are part of the evils in the Judiciary.
“For several years, the majority of people who enter the judiciary have been from the ruling party Cndd-Fdd. When appointing the heads of departments, we choose from among the cadres. In everything they do, they follow the orders of the party because it is the party which placed them where they are. Moreover, they cannot bear the precariousness because they thought they would come and collect millions in the judiciary. As a result, they are at the mercy of temptation.”
He adds that President Ndayishimiye should not blame magistrates and insult them. “Besides, the head of state insulted himself because he is their leader. He is the supreme magistrate. Why doesn’t he give orders so that these crooked magistrates are punished. And yet, these are the cadres of his political party.”
Another magistrate C.H, from Ngozi province, believes that the body of magistrates has been divided: “Did you know that the salary of a magistrate of the Supreme Court can pay 10 magistrates of the lower courts? Political affiliation took precedence during their appointment. Sometimes they are inexperienced. They are neither honest nor competent any more than the others.”
According to this magistrate for 20 years, the monthly income of a magistrate is lower than that of a biker or a hairdresser. “To control us, they divided the judiciary into two categories. They granted many advantages to some and the others were kept in total destitution.
According to him, the wealthy magistrates are those of the Supreme Court, those of the anti-corruption and those of the Special Land and Other Property Court. “What do they do that’s special?” To survive, others just hold people to ransom. The magistrates are frustrated and angry with the President of the Republic.”
Magistrate S.N., with 25 years of service, argues that saying there are three powers, executive, legislative and judiciary, is utopian: “The Judiciary is mistreated by the other two because the members lead a precarious life . They keep them in this captive situation in order to continue manipulating them.”
He recalls that the States General of 2013 was a solution to these challenges which haunt the judicial sector. “I remember that all spheres of national life were represented. We agreed that the Minister of Justice at the time, Pascal Barandagiye, would release a final report and then implement the recommendations resulting from this major meeting. The feeling of some senior figures in power was that the judiciary had just carried out a coup d’état.”
What about the independence of judiciary in Burundi?
According to Me Prosper Niyoyankana, independence of the judiciary is an illusion. A deception. It never took place in this country. All Constitutions speak of an independent judiciary. But it has always been used for political purposes.
Imagine a regime that sanctions a judge because he or she issued a civil or commercial decision in a matter that concerns either an official or a friend of an official. We have cases.
In the Ntungumburanye case, the public prosecutor does not require anything, even though he is the plaintiff, but the judge sentences. Under the Bagaza regime, the judges rendered an unfavorable decision to the COTEBU company which had a trader as a partner, the judges were dismissed.
Under the Buyoya regime, the president of the Supreme Court paid the price for trying to render a decision favorable to the opponents of the time. He was dismissed and forced into poverty which took him away.
He no longer had a job in either the public or private sector. He was revoked but the one who violated the secrecy of the deliberations was rewarded.
I too was a judge, I was put under pressure, I received calls, notes from the minister’s office which indicated to me the direction in which justice should be administered.