President Uhuru declines Maraga’s plea for budget increase
Hillary Mageka @hillarymageka
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Chief Justice David Maraga yesterday engaged in a rare public battle of wits over Judiciary budget cuts, court injunctions and pace of corruption cases.
While the CJ claimed the sudden budget cut by Treasury had almost crippled courts operations, the President in a calm response told the Judiciary to face the reality of the hard economic times and tighten their belts.
Maraga pleaded his case, and asked Uhuru to intervene, saying: “We had plans to tackle those cases within five years as we at the same time deal with current ones, then budget cuts came then we ground to a halt.”
And when Uhuru, who had sat calmly throwing cursory smiles at the judges and magistrates dressed in their official regalia, stood to speak, he said his government will only use available resources to enhance access to justice.
Though the President had earlier indicated he will not be combative, even skipping sections of his speech which he deemed harsh to the Judiciary, he remarked:
“But we must accept, yes, we want to fly First Class, but it will have to take time, pesa ni ile ile tu, hakuna ingine na haizalishwi kwa miti, ni kodi ya Mkenya na ni ile ndio tutagagwanya zote (it’s the same money we share from the national revenue which is taxpayer’s money and that is what we will share).”
He added: “Ask yourselves serious questions when you give injunctions because I appreciate what CJ is saying, you need more money but CJ your courts are the same ones when we propose certain tax measures, you are the first ones to issue injunctions, then later you ask for money…”
He posed: “Where will it come from?”
In particular, Maraga who is the President of the Supreme Court, had claimed budget constraints was hurting access to justice.
Giving an example of the huge case backlog, Maraga said in one year, they had reduced the backlog from 170,000 cases to 38,000 despite meagre resources.
“What we are asking for is not a lot, and could be just half of what the Ministry of Health is allocated. Let us be considered as an arm of the government,” the CJ said.
The President, instead implored the Judiciary to use revenues raised within the courts.
“I believe we have not cut any operation areas or development budget that has not yet started.
We haven’t, but if indeed we have, let’s go through and see some of the critical areas we can look at going into the second supplementary budget,” he said.
The President and the CJ Maraga were speaking during the official release of the State of the Judiciary and Administration of Justice report for 2018-2019 at the Supreme Court building in Nairobi yesterday.
During the reporting year, Maraga said the Judiciary had a backlog of 341,056 cases compared with the previous year when there were 372,000 cases, a reduction of nine per cent.
During the same period, the courts resolved 469,256 cases, while about 3,000 cases were referred to meditation of which 1,900 have been processed.
“Mr President, we cleared 469,256 cases and resolved other suits through mediation and released to the economy Sh7.2 billion which was in litigation,” he said.
He, however, cited Meru, Kitale, Eldoret and Kisii courts which, he said, needed urgent attention to continue dispensing justice.
In addition, Maraga said the courts, except the Supreme Court, were operating below 50 per cent of the establishments.
For instance, in the Appellate courts, the number of appeals increased to 6,782 cases last year because of lack of quorum.
“These are cases that are holding huge sums of money,” he noted.
The Lands and Environment courts, which he described as the heartbeat of the nation, cannot hear a total of 17,833 cases this year due to lack of resources, he said.
He also noted that lack of resources had slowed down digitisation of court documents making it difficult for the whole judicial system.
Last year, the National Treasury cut the Judiciary’s budget by Sh2.8 billion through a supplementary budget, sparking bitter exchanges between the courts and the Executive.
The then acting Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani chopped Sh1.49 billion meant for dispensing justice and another Sh1.37 billion meant for providing equitable access to expeditious delivery of judgments.
But yesterday, Uhuru said he did not believe the budget cut crippled the wheels of justice because in one of the circulars, which applies to all State bodies, the government stopped buying public officers three newspapers a day.
“Jameni si ununue gazeti yako ukitoka nyumbani, why do you have to find it on your desk? Nunua yako, hata mimi nanunua yangu. (Everyone should buy his or her own newspapers. Why must we buy it for you? Buy yours, even I buy mine,” the President said.
Uhuru challenged the Judiciary to hold conferences and other functions in more affordable venues like the Kenya School of Government, instead of the Coast.
“Why do you need a delegation while travelling abroad? You can go alone. I don’t see how that will compromise justice,” Uhuru said.
He asked Maraga to tell courts to stop issuing injunctions against the government and its projects.
The President hit out at some activists who he termed as professionals who continuously move to court seeking injunctions to stop projects.
The President appeared to be referring to activist Okiya Omtatah who has obtained dozens of court orders from the courts, as a public interest litigant.
“There are ‘professionals’ who we read in our newspapers everyday; they have made their business to injunct government projects because a certain contractor failed to secure a job,” he said.
“Surely, if we are working for the same public interest, I ask myself, why is it that 99 per cent of these cases are filed by one person? And you (courts) you give orders the same day without hesitation.”
On graft cases, pending in court, Uhuru told Maraga that Kenyans expect swift convictions of the corrupt this year saying senior officers in his government have been subjected to investigation and prosecution without interference.
He said as Head of State and government, he will not abdicate his duties but will do anything to protect the integrity and independence of the judicial system and oppose its capture by various elements.
“I urge the Judiciary to undertake a frank internal conversation as we are also doing,” he noted.