KIRUKU: Somebody’s stabbing the Judiciary?

Judiciary moves to clear pending children cases
Milimani Court. [Photo/Courtesy]

The vitriol by President Uhuru Kenyatta against Kenya’s judiciary for its recent rulings that didn’t go down well with the ruling party have shocked many people across the political divide, especially coming so close to the next general election.

The president’s anger was occasioned by the High Court’s ruling against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and nullifying the tender for printing of presidential ballot papers. The Ksh2.5 billion ($25 million) tender awarded to the Dubai-based Al Ghurair Group to supply 130 million ballot papers was dogged with allegations of corruption and conflict of interest due to the company’s alleged links to President Kenyatta.

The award was said to have contravened the requirements of the Election Laws (Amendment) Act 2016 and the integrated electronic electoral system as established by law, putting the credibility of the coming general election into disrepute. The tendering process has been engulfed in controversy since last year, with claims that the exercise lacked transparency.

The president’s open attack on Chief Justice David Maraga and the whole judiciary, which he claimed was working in cahoots with the opposition to frustrate the IEBC, is a sure way of creating instability and planting mistrust by the people in this key institution. The president’s statements were uncalled for, at a time when the country is already highly polarised.

The president’s tirades – in the face of a mounting challenge to his rule and potential defeat at the polls – undermine the authority of the judiciary, which must strive to retain its independence from competing interests in the political arena. Undermining the authority and independence of the judiciary is tantamount to condoning impunity and disregard of the rule of law.

Coming only days to the general election, the president’s attacks on the judiciary dim the chances of a peaceful resolution of any dispute in the presidential contest, and signal a possible slide into anarchy in the immediate post-election period. This is a situation that Kenyans cannot countenance.

In fact, the government should be in the forefront in showing respect and submission to court rulings. A responsible government has no option but to implement and obey the constitution, which upholds the independence of the judiciary and its role in resolving disputes in society.

It is therefore unfortunate that the Uhuruto government, as it has come to be known, is entrenching its contempt for courts, an attitude that has dogged the administration throughout its tenure. It is a posture that undermines the authority of the courts and worsens the already worrying levels of impunity in Kenya.

When the courts ruled in favour of teachers during their salaries dispute with the Teachers Service Commission, the government openly defied the court ruling and chose to bulldoze its way.

Years after the courts nullified the appointment and existence of county commissioners, both of which contravene sections of the constitution, the government under former president Mwai Kibaki as well as the current leadership has never abided with that court ruling.

Moreover, the Jubilee administration has openly defied the two-thirds gender principle in its appointments of public officers, yet this requirement is clearly stipulated in the constitution. Attempts by various women’s groups and other stakeholders to force the government to abide by the constitution have not yielded fruit.

For the government’s senior-most officials to lead the way in defying court rulings and the constitution that they swore to protect borders on treason. The government must be reminded that it has a duty to entrench the rule of law by upholding independence of key institutions and obeying all rulings from courts, even those that may be unfavourable. The core values upon which every country is founded are based on the supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law.

For the coming elections to be truly fair, credible and transparent, two institutions must truly remain independent: The judiciary and IEBC. The latter must remain above reproach, like Caesar’s wife. The many allegations that have dogged the commission come to an end if Kenyans are to regain their confidence in the body mandated to guide the country in the next month’s elections.

In particular, the tag of war on whether the voter register should be made public should be resolved expeditiously, considering that the voter register is a public document which all Kenyans have a right to gain access to.

The presidency is an institution that should be uniting Kenyans. The incumbent must desist from roadside declarations and tantrums that disrespect independent institutions, especially the judiciary.

If we do not cultivate strong institutions, the country could easily disintegrate in a conflagration that would consume us all. It’s shameful for the president to be the one to light that fire.

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Story By Anne Kiruku
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