Sioka’s contempt of court battle continues
28 July 2021 | Justice
Gender and child welfare minister Doreen Sioka continues to lock horns with Ombudsman John Walters over a contempt of court order related to the establishment of child friendly jails.
Walters instituted the contempt of court application in April, arguing that Sioka failed to submit a plan to construct and operate child friendly detention centres in line with the criteria set down by the court in a December 2020 ruling.
In an affidavit filed on Tuesday, Walters argued “the minister’s contempt is clear and exacerbated by the paucity of material facts and information.”
He added that in her conduct, Sioka has “wilfully disobeyed the court’s order”.
He has submitted to court that Sioka has “adopted a laissez-faire attitude to the subject nature of this matter and this application” and argued she has shown “she does not appear to comprehend her constitutional and statutory obligations”.
The 31 March deadline to file a comprehensive plan and implementation timeline as well as necessary affidavits was missed by Sioka, who filed the plan only in May, after contempt of court proceedings had been instituted. Moreover, the minister’s required affidavits were only filed in June, months after the March deadline.
In response to Sioka’s affidavit filed earlier this month, in which she offered a “sincere apology” to the court for her late filings, Walters argued that her excuses were “bald, nebulous, sketchy and vague”.
This week, he underlined that his office continues to seek the contempt of court order against the minister. He also noted that her claim that she had complied with the court’s instructions was worrying. “From a constitutional office bearer, the latter allegation - in the circumstances of this matter - is disquieting,” he noted.
Separation of powers
Sioka in a June affidavit urged the court to accept the programme as submitted and carefully consider interfering in government matters. She urged the court “to observe the separation of powers principle, which provides that the courts should be slow in interfering in the province of legislature”.
Sioka’s affidavit states further that the “plans, policies, and timelines provided herein should therefore be accepted as most suitable, reasonable and appropriate for the Ministry, which forms part and parcel of the legislative arm of government”.
The Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) this month warned that Sioka’s request is troubling.
“It is disturbing to note that the Minister’s affidavit seems to suggest that courts should not overstep the boundaries of the principle of separation of powers,” the LAC’s monthly Probono publication noted.
The LAC pointed out Sioka’s “affidavit indicates that she believes the Court should accept her plan without question”.
The LAC stressed however that when a legal duty is placed on a government official, “it is entirely appropriate for the courts to act to ensure that the legal duty is not ignored”.
The LAC explained that courts have the power to issue an order called a “mandamus” when an administrative body or official has not carried out a statutory duty. “Any person who can show that they have been aggrieved by this can apply for a court order to compel the official to carry out that legal duty and to remedy any effects of the previous failure to act.”
Battle for child rights
Sioka’s legal battle with the Ombudsman stems from an urgent application brought by Walters last year after discovering that at least 30 children and youth were held alongside adult offenders in Namibian prisons.
Following this discovery, police stations across the country were ordered to separate the children and teenagers where they could not be released from custody, or to place them with appropriate guardians.
The gender minister is obliged per the Child Care and Protection Act to ensure the establishment of child friendly jails, which to date do not exist in Namibia.
Walters’s application said the minster had “horribly failed in her duties” in this regard.
The plan submitted by Sioka in May was titled “proposed concept note on utilisation of Farm Kaukurus for children living and working on the street and other vulnerable children”.
The concept note underlined that the ministry did not have the necessary resources to act in line with its statutory duty, and had reached out to correctional services to assist.
The contempt case has been assigned to Judge Nate Ndauendapo, and the parties wait for the next assigned court date to further proceedings.