Lawyers tell CJ to reject blackmail over budget cut

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Chief Justice David Maraga.
The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) wants Chief Justice David Maraga to remain firm and reject blackmail from the Executive to secure his legacy.

Referring to the image cut by Justice Maraga during the launch of the State of the Judiciary Annual Report (Sojar) this week, the officials who included LSK Vice President Harriet Chiggai, Council member Maria Mbeneka, Nairobi LSK chairman Charles Kanjama and lawyer Nelson Havi, told the CJ not to negotiate on the independence of the Judiciary.

Justice Maraga has been at loggerheads with the Executive and Parliament over the Judiciary budget allocations.

In fact, his relation with President Uhuru Kenyatta has been lukewarm since the Supreme Court annulled the 2017 presidential election results.

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Stalled appointments

Recently, after the Judiciary budget cut, Maraga faulted the Executive and threatened to boycott national functions to protest what he termed as belittlement by the state. But this week at the launch of the Sojar, the CJ who is faced with inadequate Judiciary funds, stalled judges’ appointments and alleged weak link in the fight against corruption, cut a reconciliatory tone and pleaded with President Kenyatta to intervene.

Maraga whose time in the Judiciary is running out as he seeks to fulfill promises he made to Kenyans in his manifesto on January 25, 2017, said courts are crumbling in the fight between the Executive and the Judiciary, and Kenyans are suffering.

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“We run an institution which is like a hospital. If you disguise yourself your Excellency; if you go to Kibera and Makadara, you will see the pain of the people. Some are extremely poor. If their cases are not heard, they are in great pain. In last November and December we had abrupt budget cut which ground us to a halt. We tried to reach the relevant officials. I make calls and the calls are not responded to. You see where we are coming from,” pleaded the CJ.

In what has been interpreted as an apology to the Head of State, Maraga who seems to have resorted to diplomacy in a bid to salvage the sinking ship, said he was operating at a lower league than the President, clarifying that his threat not to attend some state functions over alleged disrespect was misunderstood.

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But speaking during LSK presidential election debate in Kisumu on Friday, the aspirants maintained that the Judiciary as an arm of government is entitled to funding as provided for in the Constitution and should not beg for it.

Gradual funding

“Maraga is always a very strong man but at the event he appeared dejected and subdued. He seems to have explored all avenues to help the Judiciary in vain,” said Mr Havi.

The lawyer noted that the CJ seems to have resorted to appease the Executive to have the challenges bedeviling the Judiciary addressed, adding that this is likely to affect the independence of the Judiciary.

“The Judiciary and the executive should not sleep together; if that happens then we are headed the wrong direction as a country,” he added.

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Mr Kanjama said the executive was using the budget standoff to muzzle the Judiciary.

“This undermines the independence of the Judiciary and slows down the wheels of justice leading to case backlog,” he said. “In my honest opinion, this is a revisit,” said Ms Chiggai, alluding to the remarks made by Uhuru after the Supreme Court nullified the presidential elections. “Once Parliament has approved the Judiciary budget, the Executive cannot purport to have control over it, she added.

“It is sad that the Judiciary has been turned into a beggar yet it is one of the three arms of government,” lamented Ms Mbeneka.

The lawyers threatened that should the Executive continue turning deaf ear to the Judiciary demands on funding, they would resort to industrial unrest to express their displeasure. Maraga hoped to get at least Sh90 billion in the last three financial years to oil the wheels of justice. In 2016/ 2017 he asked for Sh23.3 billion while in the subsequent year, he needed Sh5.9 billion. This year, the CJ sought Sh 31.1 billion.

In his plea to the President on Thursday, the CJ asked for at least Sh75 billion, which is 25 per cent of the Sh3 trillion budget. He even proposed gradual funding from 1.5 per cent. He projected that each county will have a court house in 10 years if the Treasury allocates Judiciary Sh5 billion for development.

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“Even though the Judiciary is an arm of Government, it is not demanding much. Out of a budget of about Sh3 trillion, give us just 2.5 per cent and we will dispose cases within 2 years of their filing. Give us a development vote of about Sh5 billion a year and we will construct courts all over the country in 10 years,” pleaded Maraga.

The Judiciary got half of the loaf - Sh47 billion to work with for the three years.

To construct the courts in 47 counties, the Judiciary was allocated Sh50 million. Currently there are 38 court construction projects, 17 of which are funded by the Government and the rest through World Bank loan that expires later this year.

While construction of three courts was completed this year, none were funded by government. 

“Here in Supreme Court, we showed you last time, we have an old building. We were to build a courtroom in Milimani, would like you to intervene. We go to other countries and they are proud of their institutions. You go there and you are shown this is a minister’s house, this is Parliament and Supreme Court. I wonder we can proudly say this is our Supreme Court,” the CJ told Uhuru.

(Dennis Onyango, Kamau Muthoni and Kepher Otieno)

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Law Society of KenyaLSKDavid MaragaJudiciary