Lawmakers back Maraga on funds slash outbursts
Mercy Mwai, Monica Kagia and Bernard Gitau
Chief Justice David Maraga yesterday found an unlikely ally in Members of Parliament who came to his defence after he voiced frustrations over budget cuts that threaten the administration of justice and a plot to oust him.
MPs castigated the National Treasury for reducing funds for the Judiciary, warning that the move was not backed by a resolution of Parliament.
The MPs, however, advised that the CJ should have addressed the matter using the relevant institution instead of going public. The Legislature’s support for Maraga was least expected, given its past supremacy war with the Judiciary. Maraga had accused the Executive of treating the Judiciary “contemptuously.” He said some forces in the Executive with an interest in tender cases were keen to control the Judiciary by ensuring it was crippled financially.
On claims some members of the Executive were plotting to remove him from office, the MPs reminded the CJ he occupied a constitutional office, which enjoyed security of tenure. The legislators also told off the National Treasury over the cuts and made it clear the circular proposing the drastic budgetary cuts on recurrent and development spending of up to 50 per cent was “a mere paper that had no legal backing and thus ought to be ignored.”
The sentiments by MPs came hours after Justice and Legal Affairs committee (JLAC) chaired by William Cheptumo said it would meet Maraga today to discuss his challenges at the Judiciary. “The Judiciary already suffered cuts as it required Sh23 billion but was given S18 billion. To reduce the amounts will again make it suffer more,” he said.
Others who came to Maraga’s defence were Speaker Justin Muturi, Leader of Majority Aden Duale, Leader of Minority John Mbadi and MPs Makali Mulu (Kitui Central) and Kimani Ichung’wa (Kikuyu).
Maraga on Monday alleged a plot by the Executive to kick him out of office before the end of the year, thus the budget cuts.
Muturi said while the issues raised by the Chief Justice were valid, they cannot be considered by the National Assembly as they were not properly before any committee(s) of the House.
According to the MPs, the National Treasury could not reduce or increase the budgetary allocation to either Parliament or the Judiciary without the approval of the National Assembly, the organ mandated to prepare budget. However, the Speaker faulted the CJ for not only complaining in public but also sounding helpless.
“The issues raised by CJ, if he wants them addressed properly, should be forwarded to the relevant committees. But if we pick what is written in newspapers we will open floodgates of political gossip,” he said. “The thing is, that a circular is just that and it does not mean anything. It has no force of law. We cannot as Parliament be cry babies because of a circular. We must look for ways to address issues that affect you. We are dealing with the issues the best way we know how, everyone else is supposed to be knowledgeable on how to deal with such issues,” said Muturi.
Mbadi said the complaints raised by the Chief Justice ought to be addressed. The MPs appear to have taken a bait from Maraga, who on Monday indicated the Judiciary would henceforth process its budget through Parliament, instead of the National Treasury.
“Moving forward, the Judiciary budget estimates will be taken to Parliament and not Treasury. We cannot continue begging for what belongs to us,” Maraga declared.
“From the National Assembly, I get various MPs asking me to put up courts in various places and rightfully so. So when we go to the National Assembly, we will tell them ‘look, we need so much money to build courts in such and such areas,’ “ Maraga added. But Duale challenged Maraga to explain why he addressed the press conference alone without other members of Judicial Service Commission, which he chairs.
He said: “Unless a supplementary budget is brought to this House, the memos and circulars are useless. The Chief Justice should stop complaining.”
In his Monday statement, the chief judge made it clear he was responding to claims by Duale that the Judiciary was playing politics and that its budget had not been trimmed. On his part, Makali accused the CJ of over-reacting, noting that the National Assembly had not yet altered the budget it passed in June.
Mombasa-based lawyers also came to the support of Maraga. The Mombasa Law Society of Kenya (LSK) branch members warned that they would not sit down to watch helplessly as the Executive undermine and bully the judicial arm of the government.
The lawyers said that the CJ’s office was protected by the Constitution and must accorded due respect.
Chairman Mathew Nyabena said already, effects of the budget slash had started creeping in, with several cases scheduled for hearing at the Court of Appeal and tribunals failing to start. He claimed works of various tribunals had stopped.
“The Rent Restriction Tribunal is not working anymore. Cases have stalled,” stated Nyabena. He warned that the fight between the Judiciary and Executive could precipitate a constitutional crisis. Nyabena said Mombasa was one of the worst affected by the budget cuts.
The Court of Appeal judges who rotate between Mombasa and Malindi, will only be sitting in Malindi where they will hear all appeal matters.
“This means that only those who can afford to go to Malindi will access justice. Most appeal matters in the coast region come from Mombasa,” said Nyabena. The newly refurbished Court of Appeal building in Mombasa too has suffered the consequences of the slashing of the budget as the courtrooms have no furniture.
The lawyers said ongoing construction of the new Sh445 million law courts in Mombasa would stall. Jarred Magolo said the move by the National Treasury to cut judiciary’s budget was unconstitutional.
Central Organisation of Trade Union Secretary General Francis Atwoli has appealed to President Uhuru Kenyatta to personally intervene and end the financial crisis in the Judiciary.
Atwoli strongly condemned the move by the National Treasury to slash the judiciary budget pointing it will halt serious cases that will have implications in the future.
“Currently, Judiciary is tagged with a very heavy responsibility in two areas namely, to handle corruption cases of which the President has pronounced himself on and high criminal cases including unresolved murder cases,” he said.