BY RICHARD MUPONDE
SHORTAGE of money to pay for the expenses of witnesses in criminal cases at courts in Matabeleland has affected the smooth running of the courts as some unpaid witnesses fail to come back to testify, leading to delays in finalising some matters.
The phenomena is said to have affected major courts within the region. Witnesses who attend the courts are by law supposed to be reimbursed their bus fares and meal expenses.
Currently, courts are reported to have no standardised payment structure, but witnesses are paid according to their word since there is no proof demanded and this has seen coffers quickly running dry.
The courts are given a float every Monday which mostly runs out around Wednesday.
The problem has resulted in the courts handling a limited number of cases a week and also advising witnesses not to come to court because there would be no money to pay them.
This has resulted in many cases taking long to conclude and reportedly increasing the workload on court officials.
Chief magistrate Munamato Mutevedzi however, said the problem was the turnover of the claims and the length of reimbursement of the claims by government and not shortage of money.
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“Witness expenses don’t run out because it’s a commitment made by government. We run an impressive account where expenses are paid by the stations that then send their vouchers for reimbursement. This could be the problem as it takes long for vouchers to be processed and reimbursed. So far we have reviewed the expenses three times this year, but the money is being eaten up by the hyperinflationary environment in the economy. This is a national problem. We are going to review the float for expenses again not for Bulawayo alone, but nationally. So that shouldn’t be a problem,” Mutevedzi said.
He added: “The situation has reduced the number of cases which we deal with. At times we have to warn witnesses not to report to court because we would have run out of money to pay them. This has led to some cases taking long to complete, thereby increasing the workload on court officials.”
A source close to the matter said the situation has greatly affected the smooth operations of the courts.
“Usually, the courts are given a float every Monday. So if many witnesses come from outside town it means by Wednesday the float would have been exhausted. This problem has affected almost all the courts in the region. I am sure nationally the problems could be the same, although I can’t say that since I have no information on other stations outside the Matabeleland region,” he said.