Governors battling graft charges face tough 2020

Friday, January 3rd, 2020 04:13 |

The New Year portends a bumpy ride for many county governors, particularly those battling corruption cases and those under investigation.

Three governors were last year charged with graft-related cases and barred from accessing their offices until the cases are heard and concluded.

They are Ferdinand Waititu (Kiambu),  Moses Lenolkulal (Samburu) and Mike Sonko (Nairobi), all battling economic crimes and abuse of office charges.

The three became the first casualties of a ruling on July 24 by Justice Mumbi Ngugi that governors battling graft charges cannot access their offices for the duration of trial.

“Would it serve the public interest for him (a governor charged with graft) to go back to office and preside over the finances of the county that he has been charged with embezzling from? What message does it send to the citizen if their leaders are charged with serious corruption offences, and are in office the following day, overseeing the affairs of the institution?” Ngugi posed in her ruling.

An appeal that would have given the governors a lifeline failed after judges Jamila Mohammed, David Musinga, Steven Gatembu and Agnes Murgor upheld Justice Ngugi’s ruling.

The judges’ decision sent shivers down the spines of other governors who are being investigated for corruption. 

Some county chiefs are accusing the Director of Public Prosecutions of plotting to exploit the ruling to have governors facing charges in court locked out of office.

The Council of Governors had planned to challenge the ruling, fearing that the trio’s fate could befall more of their lot.

Council of Governors chair Wycliffe Oparanya says the ruling infringes on the rule of natural justice that accused persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

“Arraigning a governor and denying him access to offices will emotionally charge the public,” he said.

Acting deputies

There have also been murmurs in Deputy President William Ruto’s camp that the affected governors were his allies.

Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, a Ruto ally, argues Justice Ngugi’s ruling was a threat to devolution.

Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei, another ally of the DP, wants governors to be granted immunity from prosecution, even when they are suspected of stealing public money, until they leave office.

Except for Nairobi — which has operated without a deputy for two years after the resignation of Polycarp Igathe — in Kiambu and Samburu, deputy governors James Nyoro and Julius Leseeto, respectively, have been acting.

Unless the Supreme Court overturns Justice Ngugi’s decision, more governors are likely leave office if they are charged with corruption cases.

About nine governors are under active investigations by the Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission (EACC) over claims of corruption.

They are Migori’s Okoth Obado, Granton Samboja (Taita Taveta), Muthomi Njuki (Tharaka Nithi), Mwangi wa Iria (Murang’a), Charity Ngilu (Kitui), Mohamud Ali (Marsabit), Alex Tolgos (Elgeyo Marakwet) and Alfred Mutua (Machakos). 

Should they be charged, they will have to vacate office like Waititu , Lenolkulal and Sonko, who  is charged with 19 counts related to theft of Sh357 million at City Hall and money laundering.

Waititu and his wife, Susan Wangari, are charged with theft of Sh588 million. 

The Kiambu governor’s troubles deepened after he was impeached by the County Assembly just a week to Christmas. He was voted out by 63 of 92 Members of the County Assembly (MCAs). Only one MCA stood with him, while others did not attend the proceedings.

“We promised the people of Kiambu that we are going give them an early Christmas and we have done exactly that. Kiambu needs a leadership that will bring development,” an elated Leader of Majority Gideon Gachara said in the Assembly following the impeachment.

Waititu, whose fate lies in the hands of the Senate, has written to Speaker Ken Lusaka claiming his impeachment was unprocedural. The streetwise politician has become a good illustration of how the political fortunes for public officials facing graft cases are fast changing, including being openly shunned by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Presidential barrier

Last month, a photograph emerged showing the President’s bodyguards blocking Waititu from accessing him.

The photo, taken outside a Ruiru church showed Waititu , with three bodyguards stood in his way, watching as the President spoke to an attentive Senator Kimani Wamatangi. 

Inside the church, Waititu, who initially sat in the front row where the President was supposed to sit, was asked to shift two rows back. This was the second time in less than a week the politician was being humiliated at presidential functions and the fourth in less than two months, a clear indication Uhuru is keen not to be seen to be associating with graft suspects.

In Nairobi,  MCAs are toying with the idea of impeaching Sonko.

 to avert a constitutional crisis in the absence of a deputy governor to act in his place.

 County where Uhuru presided over the launch of the expansion of St Francis Mang’u health centre.

During Mashujaa Day celebrations in Mombasa on October 20, he was asked to leave the venue before the President arrived. 

During the launch of the second SGR phase in Suswa on October 16, he was kept at bay while his deputy Nyoro had easy access to the Head of State.

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