The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) is said to be investigating outgoing Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku for criminal abuse of office after he appointed retired Justice Vernanda Ziyambi to the Supreme Court bench to hear a case in which he was an interested party.
Chief Justice Chidyausiku recalled Justice Ziyambi on February 6, 2017, though she had left the judiciary in 2016 after reaching retirement age. Section 186 (2) of the Constitution says judges must retire at 70 years. As such, University of Zimbabwe law student Mr Romeo Zibani wrote to Zacc, asking the Commission to probe Chief Justice Chidyausiku for “deliberately and intentionally” contravening the law in order to further a particular cause.
Before Justice Ziyambi’s latest appointment, the High Court had granted Mr Zibani’s application to suspend public interviews to select the next Chief Justice.
The Judicial Services Commission noted the ruling, went ahead with the interviews and then filed an appeal at the Supreme Court in December 2016. Chief Justice Chidyausiku later appointed Justice Ziyambi who subsequently sat on the Supreme Court panel that reversed the High Court ruling on February 13.
In his letter to Zacc dated February 24, 2017, Mr Zibani alleges that Justice Ziyambi was brought into the picture as “the majority of judges” had refused to hear the JSC’s appeal.
Prior to this, he had filed court papers challenging the constitutionality of the Supreme Court panel that gave the JSC permission to conduct the said public interviews. Zacc Head of Investigations Mr Goodson Nguni last Friday confirmed that the corruption-fighting body had received the letter, but refused to disclose further details. Another senior Zacc official, however, told out Harare Bureau that; “Our duty is to investigate and that’s what we are going to do. We have just received the complaint, and we are going to act in line with the dictates of the Constitution.”
Mr Zibani tells Zacc in the letter: “Justice Ziyambi had retired last year in November 2016 after having reached the age of seventy (70). The subsequent appointment of Retired Justice Ziyambi was unlawful and unconstitutional as I have indicated.
Retired Justice Ziyambi was no longer eligible for appointment having retired at the age of seventy (70). “It is my humble submission that the Chief Justice deliberately and intentionally contravened the Section I have referred to above by appointing a retired judge who had reached the age of seventy (70) in contravention of the Constitution. This is a clear abuse of the Chief Justice’s office and, therefore, the Chief Justice is guilty of abuse of office. “I say so because the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (Chapter 9:23) Section 174 (1) reads thus;
“174 Criminal abuse of duty as public officer ‘If a public officer, in the exercise of his or her functions as such, intentionally,
(a) does anything that is contrary to or inconsistent with his or her duty as a public officer or
(b) omits to do anything which is his or her duty as a public officer to do; for the purpose of showing favour of disfavour to any person, he or she shall be guilty of criminal abuse of duty as a public officer and liable to a fine not exceeding level thirteen or imprisonment for a period not exceeding fifteen years or both.’
“The Chief Justice is guilty of contravening the above Section. I am requesting the (Zimbabwe) Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate this abuse of office by the Chief Justice.”
Chief Justice Chidyausiku, who retires this week, could not be reached for comment.