Shortly after the Supreme Court nullified the August 8th Presidential elections, Jubilee supporters staged demonstrations that surprisingly weren’t interrupted by the police. The demonstration were coordinated in a number of Jubilee strong holds and those demonstrating in Nairobi went as far as trying to break the Supreme Court gates chanting, “Maraga must go!”
These demonstrations according to the Chief Justice were as a result of incitement from political leaders. And in a strongly worded address to the media, the Chief Justice, flanked by members of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) told the country that if politicians were tired of a strong and independent Judiciary, they can call a referendum and abolish it all together.
We were all in awe; this was music to the ears of those who have lived through Kenyatta I, and Moi regimes. Never before had we seen the Judiciary stand eyeball to eyeball with the Executive or Legislature and tell them, “Judiciary is ready to pay the ultimate price to protect the rule of law.”
Unfortunately, the Legislature, which should be the real voice of the people seemed to be interested in safe-guarding the interest of the Executive. The events leading up to the October 26th elections revealed a most arrogant and reckless crop of leaders from the two arms of government considering the scathing attacks on the Judiciary. Things got so out of hand that a number of MPs utilized every opportunity to degrade and disrespect the Judiciary. They were taking a cue from both the President and his Deputy who had promised to re-visit the matter.
Seeing as the Judiciary budget was nearly halved; it is not hard to see this as the Executive and Legislative arms of government‘s re-visiting’ this matter as they promised. However, nothing paints the full picture of this vengeance campaign better than a press statement by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ Kenya) on the state of the Judiciary in light of the drastic cuts in budgetary allocations. ICJ put it to the media that budgetary cuts was a tool the Legislature found very useful to punish the Judiciary.
ICJ further noted that in 2015, MPs threatened to cut the Judiciary’s budget following the court ruling that the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) was unconstitutional. Consequently, when the government (Executive) needed funds to conduct the fresh October 26th presidential elections last year (2017), they targeted Judiciary and other independent and Constitutional offices. In this instance alone, ICJ notes that Judiciary lost 11.1 per cent of their budget.
And if you thought they couldn’t go any lower, in June of this year (2018) all judges in the country lost their National Insurance cover in the name of insufficient funds. It appears we live in a country where some arms of the government are more equal than others.
Otherwise it shouldn’t makes sense to give MPs car grants and mileage allowance some indicating far flung regions when we know very well they live in Nairobi but deny people working in the Judiciary an equally important arm of government insurance over lack of funds.
While MPs are chest thumping themselves over their ability to put Judiciary in its place, they forget that sycophancy is often myopic and carries with it terrible lessons. Already the Chief Justice noted that he has received a number of requests from MPs whose constituencies are in dire need of courts to ensure swift justice. What such thoughtless activities as cutting of the Judiciary budget, just to please people in the Executive does is that, in one sense it denies the people one represents an opportunity to access justice.
More importantly, the decision to cut down the Judiciary budget by Parliament in conjunction with Treasury is clearly an attempt at violating the principle of separation of powers that protects any arm of government from manipulation and or intimidation by another.
Thankfully a number of Civil Society organizations and independent bodies have come out to defend the independence of the Judiciary and particularly, this perceived “re-visiting.” The Council of Governors (COG) couldn’t have put it any better when they stated that any affront to the judiciary is an affront to the people of Kenya. And that an attack on the independence of the judiciary is an attack on Kenyans.
Parliament and Executive must therefore realize the people are fatigued with useless wars which only make things more difficult for the majority poor. Also, the rate at which corruption scandals involving senior government officials keep coming up only serve to confirm that the independence of the Judiciary has never been more important than now.