Honorable Mohamed Othman, former Chief Justice of Tanzania held the post for more than six years and concluded his tenure according to the constitution early this year.
Our staff Writer Nicodemus Ikonko was recently privileged to interview him on various pertinent issues touching on his public service. Welcome....
Question: Your Lordship, before your appointment as Chief Justice of Tanzania, you held several positions locally and internationally. Could you briefly say something on that.
Answer: Before I was granted the unique privilege of appointment as Chief Justice by H.E. President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, I had been with the Court of Appeal and the High Court for six years, was serving as one of the six Commissioners in the Judicial Service Commission and was also Chairman of the Council of the Institute of Judicial Administration-Lushoto. I am most grateful that I ended my tenure according to the Constitution, and an Acting Chief Justice has assumed his duties also according to the Constitution. Since graduating with an LLB from the University of Dar es salaam in 1974(with among others, former Prime Minister Misengo Pinda and six other class mates who also become Judges) I had served in various legal capacities, nationally and internationally, notable as Prosecutor General of East Timor (Timor Leste), Chief of Prosecutions at the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (UN-ICTR) and as UNDP’s Senior Legal and Justice Sector Adviser in Cambodia.All these positions were pioneering. The legal institutions were being established by the U.N. for the first time.
Q:It is hardly a few months now since you retired from the public service as Chief Justice of Tanzania. What would you say about Tanzanian Judiciary?
A:First, my starting point, which is also supported by Tanzania’s own NEPAD review is that our Judiciary is independent and impartial. It is fulfilling its constitutional mandate under Article 107A (1) of the Constitution (1977) as one of the three pillars of the Government. A fine example. Out of the November 2015 elections, (the most contested since independence ) and within record time, the High Court and subordinate courts, respectively decided 53 election petitions arising from parliamentary elections, and 198 petitions from counsellor elections. All decisions were based on the law. Absolutely none was influenced by political party politics. Second, today the Judiciary is not walking; but definitively running. Its professionalism is on the rise. It is committed to serve the public in whose confidence it essentially depends. It has meticulously taken a strategic direction – to deliver expedited justice timely, equally and fairly. In sum, change and transformation have been embraced. Third, as a developing institution, the Judiciary has areas of excellence; but I must confess, also zones of imperfection!
Q:The world is now using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as part and parcel to the modus operandi of any serious institution. Would you say that Tanzanian Judiciary is ready for that?
A:Definitely, ICT is indispensable. Estimates by ITU (International Telecommunication Union) were that in June 2016, about 7, 590, 794 Tanzanians were using the internet. That represents one to every seven Tanzanians. The Judiciary has an ICT Road Map. ICT is an integral part of its Strategic Plan (2016- 2020). It has a web-based statistics platform- JSDS, which feeds and generates cases and other data as a management and performance tool. Over a dozen ICT Personnel have been deployed in the High Court Zones. The Judiciary in cooperation with the Government and VIATTEL has extended the National ICT Broadband backbone (“Mkonga waTaifa wa Mawasiliano”) to 21 Courts. Six ICT pilot courts have been identified – Kibaha, Mkuranga, Kinyerezi, Kawe, Kigamboni and Bagamoyo. While the Judiciary has an ICT roll out plan, it has been very prudent not to be too excited by the attractiveness of ICT, a highly specialized field. The Judiciary has been cautious to avoid the gross and costly mistakes of others in ICT.
Q:What would you say, you missed during your tenure with the Judiciary that you would highly recommend be put in place?
A:What I missed most is that I leave a Judiciary that has no Headquarters as does the other two pillars of Government, the Executive and the Parliament. The Apex Court, the Court of Appeal, which in 2016 disposed of 1273 cases, is still housed in an old or colonial Club-house ( “Dar es salaam Club”), least designed as a proper Court. Government commitment and support is very pivotal to the ultimate solution.
Q:What would you say about Tanzanian judicial infrastructure and capacity in terms of court facilities and man power?
A:Judicial infrastructure and court facilities are a top priority. They also provide increased accessibility to justice,in particular the poor. Currently, 12 regions have no High Court ( e.g. Kigoma, Mara, Morogoro, Geita, Simiyu, Singida, Songwe, Manyara, Njombe, Lindi, Katavi. Of the 139 Districts, 29 do not have District Courts. While there are 960 Primary Courts, there are 3963 Wards. For example, only one out of 7 Primary Courts in Mkinga District has electricity; and this is mirrored elsewhere. In fact, it had reached a situation, where instead of opening new primary courts, the Judiciary was closing a number of them. Not all is lost. H.E. President Dr John Pombe Magufuli deserves full applause for the on-the-spot decision he made on Law Day, 2016 directing HAZINA( the Treasury) to transfer to the Judiciary of Tz. Shs 12.3 billion (which represented its full appropriated budged for development). These fund were immediately released. They are enabling the construction of a dozen Districts Courts. The judicial infrastructure gap is still a lacunae in justice delivery. It is enormous. Filling it in successfully requires an yearly development budget of 80—90 billion Shs and for a sustained period. Part of the USD 65 million on-going 5 Years project (2016-2021) between the Judiciary and the Government and the World Bank has as component (USD 25 millions) the construction of Integrated Justice Centres for Citizen- Centric justice delivery. Again, the Government’s commitment to support the Judiciary through this project has been very positive.
Q:Do you have in mind a very unique event during your service in the Judiciary that you would say would never forget?
A:One unique murder case remains engraved in my mind. At Mbeya High Court I presided over the trial of the murder of a 13 years old boy. He was lured, killed and had his entire skin-the head and the corpse, scalped and offered for sale by the assailants. This case ( “Mchuna ngozi”) depicted the extent of extreme cruelty a human being is capable of inflicting on an innocent human being!The accused was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to the mandatory death sentence, which was affirmed by the Court of Appeal.
Q: If you are given a chance to tell Tanzanians about your experience on judicial matters locally and internationally, what would you tell them?
A:I would call upon Tanzanians to have increased confidence with the Judiciary and its leadership; to fully respect the law and judicial instances. And apart from that I would also ask them to avoid making gratuitous statements, which injure the credibility of the Courts and our justice system.
Q:You are now a retired senior citizen of this good nation. What would you be doing during your retirement?
A:One immediate post retirement plan is to share the diversified professional experience I was honoured to accumulate. I will also take time to write on legal and judicial matters of importance.
Do you have any message to the staff of Tanzanian Judiciary? Answer. The judiciary has always placed human resources, its 6,232 judicial and non-judicial staff, as the axis of its transformation. A few years back, about 6 % of operational budget was devoted to capacity building and professional training. My message to the staff is this: continue to embrace, commit and deliver on the Strategic Plan to Tanzanians; accomplish the “Zero cases” backlog; and strive for “zero judicial misconduct”. This will build an even more convincing case for the staff and the judiciary’s welfare.
Q:Do you have for the time being any local or international responsibilities?
A:Of late, and pursuant to UN General Assembly resolution 71/260 ( 2016) I had the honour to be appointed by the new U.N. Secretary- General, Antonio Guterres, as “Eminent Person” in relation to the investigation into the conditions and circumstances involving the tragic death of the Dag Hammarskjold, the UN’s second Secretary-General and the members of the part accompanying him, which occurred on the 17-18 September, 1961. As Eminent Person I am independent from the United Nations Secretariat. In short, the remit of the mandate is to assess the probative value of any “new information” on the event, to determine the scope of any further investigation and to submit a report to the Secretary-General by August 2017.
Q:After work what do you normally do? Well, I have passions and hobbies.
A:One needs these for physical and mental wellbeing. I often brisk walk; read non-fiction books and listen to jazz and other types of nonsonorous music.