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Wednesday, 25 January 2012

A Market for Lemons

Justice Permanent Secretary Patricia Jere has observed that lawyers are shunning the opportunity because "of the huge work load and lack of incentives...lawyers shunned to work as magistrates in preference to private practice which was more lucrative...vacancies had not been filled because there were no magistrates on the market". Poor incentives are certainly part of the problem, but it still leaves us with an incomplete picture. I would suggest that there at least additional observations to be made. 

The first is that a large part of the problem is poor reputation. The politicisation of the judiciary and general rampant corruption has forced many legal minds who are sincere in their duties to avoid working for the government. Being a magistrate goes far beyond simply doing a job, its about public service. When the public sector becomes tainted it becomes difficult to attract people. 

A more serious problem Ms Jere would do well to consider is the poor quality of remaining  magistrates. The poor reputation of the judiciary does not just prevent people from joining, but also leads to the exit of good magistrates and attraction of poor ones (those who can't make it as lawyers and are too corrupt). This is a classic market for lemons, with only the bad eggs left. Good wages alone wont fix this problem. What it needs is improvement in the professional standards, strong leadership at the top of judiciary and greater commitment to rooting out corrupt magistrates.  


  1. Indeed, ordinary Zambians are struggling to find justice- I am getting heart-rending stories every day from the magistrates courts. Is the underlying cause that so few students pass their LLB exams (8/100 this year I am told)? With so few lawyers, their prices have sky-rocketed beyond what most people can afford- some even say its a conspiracy.
    The whole justice system requires serious review but who would perform the task convincingly?

    1. Hi Rolf,

      Like with anything, it is the lack of funding. Not only does this shift the tax (and levy/copay/etc) burden onto the middle class, it is keeping lending rates in the mid-twenties and keeps the state borrowing from the private sector.

      Every year, the state is losing at least $3 billion in profits from mining because of privatisation. Because of the 'developmant agreements', it even loses about $1.5 billion in taxes on the mining industry, including $300 million at ZCCM-IH because of uncollectable and undeterminable mine industry 'profits'.

      The PF has said no to a collectable tax like the Windfall Tax, at least for now.

      That is at the core of everything - poor quality education, poor roads, lack of investment in infrastructure (97% of agriculture depends on rainfall), lack of investment in human resources at the local council level.

      Money makes money, and the government is still unwilling to collect it's share.

    2. I am sure we can assemble a team to undertake such a review if demand if the Government was willing


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