Blow to Barasa as court overturns county board members removal

Kakamega County Public Service Board members led by their Chair Catherine Omweno ( second left) with their lawyer Carliestous Shifwoka at Kakamega High Court on June 6, 2024.  [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Kakamega Governor Fernandes Barasa has suffered a blow after the Employment and Labour Relations Court overturned the impeachment of members of the County Public Service Board (CPSB). 

The court ordered their immediate reinstatement and awarded each of the four board members Sh1 million in damages.  

Those impeached were board chairperson Catherine Omweno and members Stanley Were, Ralph Wangatiah, and Joel Omukoko. Vice-chair Ambrose Subayi and member Sylvia Otunga survived the ouster. 

"The petition by members of the board succeeds, overall process was flawed as rights of the petitioners as guaranteed as those before the court were violated," ruled Justice Jemimah Keli.  

Justice Keli found that MCAs who were not members of the County Public Service and Administration signed the impeachment report and the 'notice for attendance did not meet the threshold under the law'.

"On validity of reasons for removal, as the members were blamed for the action of the governor, who was never questioned, the grounds under Article 251 of the Constitution were not established," the Judge said. 

"The assembly having determined the petition before it in the manner it did, it is functus officio, none remains hanging," she added.

"Reliefs granted, decision on removal and subsequent letters quashed as they violated the Constitution and the rush proceedings unlawful. The 1st, 2nd 3rd respondents are restrained from removing petitioners from office." 

Justice Keli ordered the four petitioners to resume duty immediately and awarded each damages of Sh1 million and costs. 

But the governor, through his lawyer Patrick Lutta, has applied for stay orders to prevent the petitioners from resuming office on grounds that he intends to appeal the decision of the court. 

The CPSB members through their lawyer Calistus Shifwoka, during the hearing of the petition, argued that they were unjustly removed from office, citing procedural irregularities and potential biases in the impeachment process. 

"The act of advertising and declaring the positions of all the board members in local dailies just a few hours after their impeachment is in itself suspect.

"The county assembly proceedings ended at 10.30pm on December 14, last year and the following day, the advertisement was out," Shifwoka told the court.

"This is prima facie evidence that the process was already predetermined and what happened was just a public relations exercise. They declared six positions vacant when only four had been impeached. They later revoked the advert and made another one that declared vacant four positions," he added. 

But the governor's lawyer while defending the controversial advertisement said "with technology, you can send an email or WhatsApp advert at 10.30pm and it will surely find its way in the local dailies the following day." 

"Pursuant to section 57 of the County Governments Act, 2012 and Section 5 of the Kakamega County Public Service Board Act No.7 of 2017, the selection panel for the chairperson and members of Kakamega County Public Service Board wishes to announce the vacancies of the chairperson and five board members for a six-year non-renewable term," the advert dated December 15, 2023 reads in part.

The petition stemmed from a move by former Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya to sack Catherine Gathoni as the secretary and CPSB Chief Executive Officer.