Former Botswana high court judge, Oagile Key Dingake - the first African to be appointed judge of Papua New Guinea – took his oath of office last week Wednesday.
Desceiing the feeling to Botswana Guardian in a telephone interview Dingake said he felt the enormity, gravity and importance of the task ahead of him weigh heavily on his shoulder as he walked down the aisle to take his oath.
Dingake said it has been a phenomenal journey to the land of the unexpected and mystery. Some call it the Jewel of the Pacific. Papua New Guinea, PNG for short is a traveller’s delight in many respects. It has breathtaking and pristine beaches outside Port Mosby, the capital city. It lies on the eastern half of the second largest island in the world, and shares a border with Indonesia.
As a former colony of Britain, PNG and Botswana share a common legal heritage, but Dingake says the country does things a little more differently than Botswana. For instance, during the opening of the legal year Judges Parade March commences a kilometre or so away from the court house or venue for the community to have a sense of involvement.
The swearing in of a judge is a big thing. The Chief Justice (CJ), under a police escort, leads a convoy of Judges to the offices of the head of state called Governor General where an oath is administered. In Botswana it is taken before the CJ and is often a very low key affair involving CJ, the Judge and CJ’s assistant!
“As I walked towards the Governor General to take my oath of office, I felt the enormity; gravity and importance of the task ahead of me weigh heavily on my shoulder. The idea that ngwana wa Dingake le Ngwakwana ko Mosalakwane, in Bobonong, Botswana, in Africa, could be called to the Pacific to come dispense justice made me wish my parents were here with me.
“My dad used to think Robben Island in South Africa where his son, Michael Kitso Dingake, was incarcerated by the Boers for political activities in the fight for freedom, was the farthest his son could go. As I recall he blamed education for all this and for his son believing to be even “clever” than” makgoa” and at times having the neck to scold them. To imagine that his last born was in this island far away from anything would have knocked him unconscious.
“I was accompanied by my wife when I took the oath of office. I was flanked by the CJ on my right as required by the traditions here, as Judges looked on. After my swearing in the CJ and I sat down with the press to take questions about the occasion
“The CJ announced that because of my experience I have been assigned to deal specifically with all claims by and against the state only. The Attorney General and Minister of Justice in a statement said my recruitment was timely as the PNG is in the process of establishing the Human Rights Commission.”
Dingake says he went through orientation training the next day on how they run their courts and what immediately blew his mind is that PNG judges on the main operate paperless Court proceedings. There is no need to walk into Court with a file with papers flying in all directions as files are electronic and the judges have to run with it as such. The electronic case management system also monitors the performance of Judges.
“A whole new world just unfolded in front of my eyes that I hope I will one day plough back to my native country”.
“My greatest regret as I stood up there in the office of the Governor General, to take oath to uphold, defend and protect the Constitution of PNG, with cameras and smart phones clicking away to record this historic and glorious moment, was that I was not wearing a Botswana tie and badge.
“But it is not all lost. Another ceremony is on its way. It’s scheduled for the 2nd of March 2018. On this day the CJ and other Judges will hold an open Court hearing to welcome me and other new judges. He will deliver a speech and the new judges will also commit publicly. On this day I will make good my default. Otherwise history will not forgive me.
“The press has been running headlines on my appointment and swearing. One of the leading newspapers called “Nation” ran a headline saying “African Judge to handle cases involving State”. It has been a roller coaster of a pilgrimage to mine law in the belly of the Pacific. It has been a phenomenal journey to the land of the unexpected and mystery. Some call it the jewel of the Pacific”.