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O País / Isaque Chande, minister of Justice, Constitutional and Religious Matters of Mozambique
Mozambican Justice Minister Isaque Chande on Friday promised that the government will take measures to turn the Legal Aid Institute (IPAJ) into an institution that genuinely provides legal services free of charge to the poor and vulnerable strata of the population.
Chande was speaking at the opening of a meeting in Maputo of the IPAJ Management Council to which all IPAJ provincial delegates had also been invited, and he was reacting to “persistent reports” of illicit charges levied by some IPAJ staff.
The same question of IPAJ members demanding payment for services which, in principle, should be free was raised on Thursday by Attorney-General Beatriz Buchili in the debate around her report on the state of the justice system to the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic.
“IPAJ is a key institution in the administration of justice”, said Chande, and when there are “negative perceptions” of IPAJ, that “brings discredit on the whole justice system in the eyes of communities”.
The Minister hoped that this meeting of the Management Council would be the first step in solving the problem. The balance sheet of the activities undertaken, he said, should indicate the state of health of IPAJ, and point to appropriate paths to overcome any constraints and challenges.
The IPAJ general director, Justino Tonela, said the illicit charges may be caused by the fact that the IPAJ members concerned are not paid any wages. They are not state employees but are final year students at the law faculties of the country’s universities, working as unpaid interns at IPAJ.
Their status is different from that of public defenders, who defend in court people who cannot afford a lawyer. They work with IPAJ, but they have law degrees and have a contractual tie to the state.
“It’s a delicate question”, Tonela said. “Because IPAJ members don’t have wage incentives, they charge money. But we are working with the relevant bodies to tackle this situation. We are working with the Attorney-General’s Office and with the colleagues from the provinces to rectify the problem”.
A further challenge facing IPAJ, Tonela added, is to expand its services to cover all the country’s 159 districts, including those in areas that have recently been raised to district status.
More public defenders are needed, he stressed. Currently IPAJ only has 130 public defenders, out of the 250 originally projected to cover the 145 districts where IPAJ currently works. “We think this number is insufficient for present and future challenges”, he said.
In 2016, IPAJ assisted 184,000 cases across the country, which is an increase of 9.7 per cent when compared with 2015.Source: AIM
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