How Commission, Shollei war kicked up storm in Judiciary

                                                             Gladys Shollei   PHOTO:COURTESY


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It has been billed as Chief Justice Willy Mutunga succession battle in the Judiciary. Other schools of thought suggest that after the refusal by ousted Judiciary Chief Registrar Gladys Shollei to oblige some members of the Judiciary Service Commission (JSC) placed her in the firing line after she raised the red flag about questionable procurement.

Whichever way, since the matter became public in August, the Judiciary has been dragged through the mud, with the credibility of the institution that had regained a modicum of public confidence after years of distrust, rapidly receding.

The former Judiciary boss’ woes began when JSC members met in Mombasa in August and resolved to rein in her ego, accusing her of obstinacy and high-handedness.

She was accused of financial, procurement, employment and administration impropriety in the Judiciary, but defended herself against all the allegations.

In due course, the media also landed on e-mail correspondence between the CJ and some Judiciary staff, the most startling was the 31-point plan prepared by a group dubbed the “War Council” in the JSC fight with Shollei.

Dr Mutunga and his deputy Kalpana Rawal’s tenure at the Judiciary come to a close next year, setting in motion vicious competition to replace them and shape how this arm of government will be managed.

The tussle with Ms Shollei is therefore seen as externally engineered to drop her from the succession line. The emails unearthed a dirty scheme that embarrassed the CJ who is also the President of the Supreme.

On systemic corruption in the Judiciary the former registrar hit him with, “I know some members of the JSC have boasted that they control all judges and no judge shall give orders against them. But I assure Kenyans that there are very many men and women in our great Judiciary who believe in the rule of law and who are committed to delivering justice fairly.”

She further shocked the country when she revealed that JSC members had allegedly squandered more than Sh125 million in two-and-a-half years in sitting allowances.

Over the period JSC held 467 meetings and each member claimed Sh80,000 per sitting.

The revelations were made when Shollei appeared before the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC). JSC snubbed summons by PAC to shed light on financial management at the Judiciary.

She told PAC, “I have had a very difficult relationship with the JSC. The issue of allowances has put me in problems that I am in with the commission right now. I have sometimes let the commissioners have their way so that I get to work. The more I put my foot down, the more I got in trouble.”

In turn the JSC accused her of sourcing offices for the Judiciary staff in Coast without following  proper procurement procedure. In particular the commission questioned the acquisition of Elgon Court to accommodate Judiciary staff.

The JSC questioned why a total of Sh1.2 billion, out of which Sh900 million was used to rent Court of Appeal premises in Mombasa and Sh300 million for the Elgon Court in Upper Hill area, Nairobi, for a six-year lease.

As the saga raged, the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) waded in and threatened in September to petition President Uhuru Kenyatta to initiate the process to disband the commission if it “mishandled” Shollei.

The LSK through chairman Eric Mutua, said the commission, which has a constitutional duty to conduct its affairs responsibly and beyond reproach was washing its dirty linen in public and thereby eroding public confidence in its capacity to dispense justice.

Mutua said, “We will ask the President to set up a tribunal to investigate the conduct of the JSC if it behaves irresponsibly.” After the curtain finally comes down in this high drama, it is believed Mutunga will be on his way out.