Chief Justice Martha Koome hits at Legislature over frequent summonses

Tuesday, July 13th, 2021 00:00 |
Chief Justice Martha Koome receives a Casebook on Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crime from the CEO of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) Twalib Mbarak at her office. The CJ said the courts will give priority to the conclusion of over 400 pending corruption cases seeking to recover Sh11 billion. Photo/PD/JOHN OCHIENG

After the long protracted supremacy wars with the Executive, the Judiciary yesterday triggered a new fight with Parliament.

Chief Justice Martha Koome wrote to Parliament questioning its mandate and that of the departmental committees to oversight the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

This is not the first time the Judiciary is locking horns with the Legislature after Koome’s predecessor, David Maraga, wrote to President Uhuru Kenyatta advising him to dissolve Parliament for failing to enact the two-thirds gender rule.

Chief Registrar of Judiciary Anne Amadi was yesterday expected to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the National Assembly to respond to audit queries after failing to honour the invite on two different occasions.

“This tendency by Parliament is a threat to the normal functioning of Judiciary and JSC,” said Koome.

Frequent summons

She accused the Legislature of harassing the Judiciary using frequent summonses.

“In the recent past we have had frequent and multiple summons from Parliament, overlapping and duplicating summons from committees of the same House and also between the two Houses to discuss the same issue.

This tendency by Parliament in its exercise of its oversight mandate is worrying and needs to be addressed as it not only threatens the stable relationship that has been forged for the past few years between these two organs of the State, part of it borders on harassment,” said Koome.

Amadi was to appear before the Opiyo Wandayi-led committee to shed light on delays in confirming some officers who have served in acting capacity for a number of years.

The matter was flagged by Auditor General Nancy Gathungu in her 2018/19 report where she questioned why 10 Judiciary officers have been acting for a long time.

According to the auditor, this was a violation of Judiciary Human Resources Policies and Procedures manual.

The auditor cited Susan Oyatsi, who has been acting Director of Finance at the Judiciary for more than a decade.

In her hard-hitting response to National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi and his Senate counterpart Ken Lusaka, the CJ maintained the JSC will no longer appear before Parliament or its committees.

She, however, called for a consultative meeting between her and the two Speakers to deliberate on the matter.

The CJ’s sentiments are likely to shock MPs who recently vetted and approved her name to take office.

Justice Koome was vetted by the Justice and Legal Affairs committee (JLAC) of the National Assembly and given a clean bill of health and her ultimatum to the two Houses is likely to catch lawmakers by surprise.

Interestingly, when she appeared before the JLAC for vetting, the CJ undertook to respect Parliament’s role in oversighting JSC.

“I will honour parliamentary summons whenever invited as I believe in respecting all the arms of governments and their roles,” Justice Koome told the vetting committee.

Yesterday, PAC chair Wandayi, after reading out the letter to his members, said he will discuss it with the Speaker and prevail upon him to name the CJ for contempt of Parliament.

“The CJ’s letter raises grave issues. I want to tell her that this committee is not on a fishing expedition as she claims other than the issues raised in the report of the Auditor-General,” said Wandayi.

Contempt of Parliament

He said the position of the committee is that the Registrar (Amadi) had refused to honour summonses to appear and will, therefore, be named for contempt.

“Instead of appearing today, Amadi decided to write to the Clerk of the National Assembly informing him of the CJ’s position on the matter,” Wandayi told members.

Garissa Township MP Aden Duale said the actions of the CJ were meant to exonerate the Judiciary from being questioned on use of tax payer’s money.

“This is a simple matter; if they want to tell us that this committee cannot oversight them, then they should not bring their estimates in the House for consideration and approval. They should now go to Treasury for their money,” Duale warned. 

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