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President Uhuru Kenyatta appoints tribunal to probe suspended EACC bosses

EACC Chair Mumo Matemu and his deputy Irene Keino who were suspended from office pending probe into the conduct. (Photo:File/Standard)

President Uhuru Kenyatta set up a tribunal to probe two Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) officials just hours after suspending them.

The tribunal to investigate EACC Chairman Mumo Matemu and Vice Chairperson Irene Keino will be chaired by Justice Jonathan Bowen Havelock.

The other members are Margaret Shava, Muathe Issa and Juster Nkoroi. It comes just 24 hours after Parliament recommended their sacking. A third commissioner, Jane Onsongo, resigned on March 31.

President Kenyatta cited Wednesday’s resolution by the National Assembly as grounds for suspending Matemu and Mumo from office.

The Constitution states that the tribunal must be chaired by a person who holds, or has held the office of a judge of a superior court. Other members must be at least two persons qualified to be appointed as High Court judges, and another qualified to assess the facts in the petition that led to the suspension.

President Kenyatta must act on the recommendations of the tribunal within 30 days after receiving its final report. However, the two commissioners will continue to receive half their salaries and benefits during the period they are suspended.

Reacting to the developments, senators Billow Kerrow (Mandera), Boni Khalwale (Kakamega), Mutula Kilonzo Jr (Makueni) and Moses Kajwang' (Homa Bay) accused the National Assembly and the Executive of frustrating the war on corruption.

Lawyer PLO Lumumba, who was kicked out from the helm of EACC's predecessor, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission four years ago, denounced the action, saying it would undermine the war on corruption, a vice he said had the potential to destroy Kenya.

In a piece he wrote for the Katiba Insitutute, Mr Lumumba recalled the time he faced a similar fate as Matemu and Keino.

He wrote that one of those behind the plot that forced him out of Integrity Centre by amending the law told him to his face: "We appointed you not to fight corruption, but to appear to fight it. But what you have been doing with your group is to destroy our political careers and tarnish our names. We will not let you do that. We will either remove you from office or kill you."

Transparency International (TI) Executive Director Samuel Kimeu Thursday challenged Attorney General Githu Muigai to give a legal advisory on how the EACC would handle ongoing high profile investigations into top Government officials and scores of governors and MPs named in the EACC report the President submitted to Parliament

MPs' approval

MPs approved a report by the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee that concluded the commission was dysfunctional and was unlikely to fight corruption, and cited a report by the Commission on Administrative Justice that accused the team of conflict of interest.

Should the tribunal recommend the dismissal of Matemu and Keino, a 13-member selection panel with representation from the Government, professional and religious bodies will carry out competitive recruitment and shortlist three qualified persons for chairperson, and four for members, for appointment by the President with the approval of Parliament.

Lumumba, who was sacked alongside his two deputy directors in August 2011 after Parliament passed the Act establishing the EACC, said: "When you begin to discharge your mandate as required by the law, lords of impunity gang up and remove you from office."

The EACC commissioners' suspension follows approval by MPs of a petition by Geoffrey Oriaro dated March 12, 2015.

In a statement to media houses Thursday, the President said the suspension of Matemu and Keino would not impede ongoing investigations and cases already in court.

"They (Matemu and Keino) are suspended from undertaking all functions and duties of those offices with immediate effect pending the outcome of the tribunal, which will be set up in accordance with the law," read the statement released by State House Spokesperson Manoah Esipisu. They will receive half salary and benefits during their suspension.

"This process in no way hinders the work of the organisation, which remains constitutionally established and operational," said the statement from State House.

Kerrow described the goings-on at EACC as a "game of musical chairs" and claimed Parliament was being used to dismember the commission.

"When the heat becomes too much from EACC, the Government uses Parliament or repeals the law, as was the case with Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) that sent the Patrick Lumumba team home in haste," said Kerrow.

Dr Khalwale expressed joy that finally, MPs had appreciated why he and lawyer and publisher Gitobu Imanyara objected to Matemu's appointment in the last Parliament. But Kilonzo said the process by the National Assembly to remove the commissioners appeared synchronised.

"It is a collusion to defeat the war on corruption. The tribunal should have been in place before the suspension. Matemu and Keino must be given due process," said Kilonzo.

Kajwang' said it was sad that the Jubilee administration was using its tyranny of numbers in an unnecessary manner and untimely ventures.

"This gives an impression that Jubilee is not interested in fighting graft but preoccupied with public relations," said Kajwang'. But Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen said the officials set themselves up for suspension by encouraging fighting within the commission.