Eba Kandovazu

THE Minister of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare, Doreen Sioka, could face a maximum 15 years custodial sentence, should the High Court convict her of contempt of court next March.

The High Court could also fine her in the event that she is found guilty, or impose a suspended custodial sentence. The punishable offense is a discretion of the court. This is after outgoing Ombudsman, John Walters, filed an application to have the minister convicted for not complying with a 2020 court order compelling her to deliver a plan under oath that would see to the safety of children at detention centres. It was also ordered at the time that children should not be detained together with adults. The minister, although given the deadline of 31 March, 2021, to deliver the said plan to the High Court and Office of the Ombudsman, failed to do so and instead only submitted it in June, prompting Walters to file a contempt of court application.

Judge Nate Ndauendapo today reserved judgment following oral arguments between the Government attorneys representing Sioka, and those representing Walters. Sioka’s lawyers today argued that the report was delayed as a result of a lengthy consultative process, adding that she had to hold stakeholders’ meetings, plan and collect relevant information. She is represented by Advocate Tuhafeni Muhongo and Freddy Kadhila.

The High Court will rule whether or not Sioka deliberately and intentionally failed to comply with the court order. The lawyers also argued that the minister, if is to be convicted is entitled to a just and fair trial, where she is to be cross-examined and call witnesses.

“As it turns out, by the time the minister finalised the above processes the due date had already lapsed, and hence she could not file on time as required,” Sioka’s lawyers told Judge Ndauendapo.

Walters, through his lawyer, Tshuka Luvindao, also seeks an order with an appropriate sentence in the form of custodial sentence, a fine or a suspended custodial sentence consequent to a payment of a fine. In addition, the Ombudsman wants Sioka to pay the legal costs in her personal capacity.

“The bald and vague reasons proffered by the minister are false. The minister, with full knowledge of the deadline of compliance, does not take this court into her confidence as to why she did not approach this court or the Ombudsman applicant for an extension of time. Beyond a reasonable doubt, the minister did unlawfully, intentionally and in bad faith fail to comply with this court’s order of 22 December 2020,”Luvindao argues.

Political analyst, Ndumba Kamanyah, says if the minister is convicted, whether or not she is to quit her job depends on the gravity of the offense. “There is a number of issues involved. The political aspect will also play a role. I foresee her arguing that it is not a bog case. We have seen the likes of former education minister resigning but every case has its own merits. The latter was a corruption case and this one is a mere contempt of court case. This is not to say that contempt of court should not be taken seriously. There should be legal consequences,” Kamanyah says.