In what is considered for the first time ever, the Royal Audit Authority will start reviewing the judiciary system and its practices next week.
The move is commendable and the message of accountability – loud and clear. The Constitution guarantees independence to the institution of the judiciary and the judges. It is because of this independence that accountability and transparency must be sought from the judiciary. Its independence is in the interest of the people, in national interest, and it is for this reason that the institution be held accountable. When the judiciary system through the judges, which personify the institution’s independence, is empowered to interpret laws, they must be answerable to laws.
And it is law, the Constitution that mandates the authority to audit the accounts, both financial and performance, of all public agencies. No jurisdiction is exempt from audit and the one that will be undertaken in the judiciary is as much about upholding the rule of law as it is about seeking accountability.
For a young democracy, it is reassuring to see the judiciary system being held accountable. The audit process could help reassert the faith of the people in the judicial system, which is the last recourse for justice. In the past, the people appealed to His Majesty The King. Today, people go to the Supreme Court, the guardian of the Constitution. The upcoming audit must be taken as an important step towards democracy and institutionalising accountability of public institutions.
Reports have observed that despite efforts to provide transparency, the justice system is still perceived as a closed institution. The institution is already under public scrutiny and the perception of arbitrary performance by members of the judiciary at all levels, which magnifies on social media, has the potential to injure public trust in the judiciary.
A 2015 judicial integrity scan report found that most complaints regarding the judiciary concerned cases of abuse of office. There were also some bribery allegations. The audit may be the first in the history of the judiciary but it is an important one because it would help clarify these allegations and more.
As a young democracy, we will have many firsts. We have never had a house committee deciding to dissolve prematurely. We have for the first time tested crewmembers for controlled substance and found some test positive. The constitutional case was the first.
We take these instances seriously because it is about setting a precedent, the right precedent. When the issue concerns holding public offices and officials accountable, it is in public interest. It is hoped that the government does not ignore the message of accountability that the auditing of the judiciary is sending. If the custodians of our laws are held accountable, the government must not fear to hold accountable those who are breaking laws. If it wants to take the credit for initiating the test for controlled substances among crewmembers, it must also show that it takes the issue seriously. For it is in national interest that the people seek accountability.