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Effort to Boost Judicial Competence

Recruitment drive for new magistrates seeks to repair image of judiciary.
By Héritier Maila

In a bid to clean up the Congolese judiciary, the authorities are seeking to appoint as many as 1,000 new magistrates in the country over the next two years.

This would increase the present 1,500 magistrates to 2,500, and follows on from the sacking earlier this year of more than ten per cent of the magistracy in an anti-corruption purge.

But critics of the move argue that recruiting more judges will not solve the problem of judicial independence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC.

“This does not get to the heart of the problem,” lawyer Dany Mukeba said. “The solution is the correct compensation of judges, not recruiting more judges. Do you think if we add 1,000 new judges, we will be able to pay them properly? Dream on. The situation will not change.”

Magistrates either take on the role of judge in court or that of investigating magistrate.

Like other civil servants, they are not well paid. As a result, many choose to turn to corruption in order to boost their income, often making it difficult for citizens in the DRC to obtain a fair hearing.

Judges who fall out of line are supposed to be disciplined by the High Council of the Magistracy, which was set up in 2006 constitution. But a lack of adequate funding has brought its effectiveness into question.

President Joseph Kabila has pledged to stamp out corruption in the judiciary, but critics have said that his reforms are a way of attracting attention away from the malaise in his own government.

Having purged large areas of the judiciary, Kabila is hoping that a competitive examination held last month, sat by 13,000 hopefuls across the country, will help to bring fresh blood into the profession.

Non-governmental organisations, NGOs, have hailed the recruitment process as a great opportunity to raise the profile and the image of the Congolese judiciary, and set it on the road to true independence.

Jean Luc Ngongo, from the Union Against Corruption and Fraud, told IWPR, “We salute this initiative. For the first time in 20 years the Congolese magistracy has a chance to become independent, without favouritism or political arrangements, or corruption.

“We hope the best really will be the ones who succeed in this competitive examination.”

But some have warned that, for the best to be made out of this opportunity, the competition must be seen to be held in a fair way.

Cédrick Mwehu, one of the candidates, expressed the fears of many about the selection process, “I hope the marking is done transparently, that merit triumphs over money or tribalism. The marking will be done in Kinshasa and often if you do not have anyone to support you, it is difficult to get a position as a magistrate.”

Willy Mulenda, another candidate, adds that there is a very real danger that, if anyone gets the job because of political pressure, their independence will immediately be questioned, and this will undermine the legitimacy of the entire judiciary. “The DRC needs to look after the image of its judiciary, which is much criticised,” he said.

The written competition in October began with a dissertation on day one, where candidates were required to answer the question “Why do you want to be a magistrate?”

That was followed by two days focused on penal procedure, the law in general and especially criminal law. Civil law was also included.

Justice Minister Luzolo Bambi vowed that there would be neither corruption nor favouritism, “I can assure everyone that the Congolese government will ensure transparency in the marking of this exam. I warn the candidates that anyone caught using corruption or influence will find themselves in prison.

“The 1,000 magistrates who will be taken on will put the country back on its feet.”

The head of the examining board also vowed to punish anyone who tries to get a post corruptly. “Corruption will not only lead to a candidate’s application being cancelled but also criminal proceeding. It is time to restore the image of the Congolese magistracy,” said Victor Safari Kasongo, secretary general of the High Council of the Magistracy.

There have been two purges of the magistracy in recent years. In February 2008, 92 magistrates were sacked over allegations of corruption, including the president of the supreme court. This year, on July 14, a further 165 judges, some 10 per cent of the magistracy, were dismissed.

Héritier Maila is an IWPR-trained reporter.

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