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Sunset days: What is Wako's exit plan?

BUSINESS
By | February 26th 2011

By Athman Amran

Attorney General Amos Sitswila Wako held a closed door meeting with President Kibaki on Friday, hours after the President’s wing of Government accused him of abdicating his responsibility.

Official sources at State House said Wako was summoned to Harambee House for a meeting whose agenda was to discuss the two Bills adopted by Parliament this week before they are assented to by the President.

Independent sources within Government circles said the President was very upset by Wako’s handling of court cases contesting the nomination of the Chief Justice and two other senior Judiciary officers.

President Kibaki meets with Attorney General Amos Wako at Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi during the opening of the court on Thursday. .[PHOTO/EVANS HABIL/Standard]

"He asked Wako to go and see him today at Harambee House when they met at an official function on Thursday," said a highly placed Government officer.

On Thursday, President Kibaki, who had officially opened the new Milimani Courts, turned around looking for Wako after the function and pulled him aside for a brief talk.

It emerged yesterday, according to the sources, that he sought the AG to personally inform him about yesterday’s meeting.

According to the Constitution, the latest Wako can be replaced is August, but MPs in the President’s party want the AG out of office now because he refused to oppose a case filed against Kibaki’s nominations for the offices of Chief Justice, Attorney General and Director of Public Prosecutions.

Exit plan

On Friday, the AG did not attend an induction retreat by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) at Gigiri in Nairobi despite the fact that he is an ex-officio member.

He also did not preside over the ceremony for the award of coat of arms to various institutions at the Kenya Institute of Administration at Kabete yesterday morning.

But what is Wako’s exit plan?

The Attorney General has been accused by PNU MPs of not defending the Government and instead building his expected political career.

He has in recent weeks received a lot of public support because of openly refusing to support the nominations in and out of court.

But political observers argue that the next few weeks could be critical for Wako as he fights to make a dignified exit from office.

But Amos, as his friends in legal circles call him, is a wily old fox whose disarming smile, infectious laughter and witty remarks have got him from many tight corners in his 20-year-career.

Stumbling block

A few weeks ago, the AG told the media that he would listen to the voices of his people to serve in whatever capacity they would request him to.

Wako was first appointed in 1991 by former President Moi and had been regarded as major stumbling block to reforms before he successfully steered the country into getting a new Constitution in August last year.

Among the first things he did when he was appointed was to restore the independence of the Electoral Commission of Kenya and to expend its membership as required the Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) accord of 1997.

The AG’s term of office has become an issue of contention with some members of President Kibaki’s PNU and some ODM rebel MPs fronted by Eldoret North MP William Ruto wanting him out before his term expires.

The storm over the AG’s term in office comes after declaring the President’s nominations to four constitutional offices unconstitutional.

On Tuesday President Kibaki withdrew his nominees to the offices of the Chief Justice, Attorney General, Director of Public Prosecutions and the Controller of Budget.

The President had told a press conference at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre that he and Raila would now agree on the name of the next AG while the office of the CJ would pass through the Judicial Service Commission and that of the DPP and Controller of Budget would be advertised through the Public Service Commission.

And while a tug of war has cropped up between the President and the PM over when a person to replace Wako should be nominated, Constitutional Affairs Minister Mutula Kilonzo has cautioned the two principals against creating another crisis by deciding for Kenyans who the new Attorney General (AG) would be. The PM has been insisting that there was no hurry in choosing a replacement for Wako as his term ends in August while President Kibaki’s PNU wants a replacement as soon as possible.

Mr Mutula yesterday said the position should be advertised so that the next holder of office is not seen as a political appointee.

Parliament’s approval

"The candidate for the AG’s post has to compete with other lawyers who are qualified," Mutula told the press at an induction seminar for members of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

The JSC members are expected to have a closed door session today to come up with modalities on how to come up with three possible candidates for the CJ, which would be forwarded the President to nominate a name in consultation with the PM before going to Parliament for approval or rejection.

Mutula also differed with Raila over the competency of the Public Service Commission (PSC) to hire the Director of Public Prosecutions and Controller of Budget.

Mutula said Raila has erred in his contention that the PSC cannot handle the recruitment since it had not been reconstituted in accordance with the new constitution.

The minister said there is no transitional clause in the new Constitution that requires the PSC to be reconstituted. "PSC is fully mandated to participate in the exercise and it should not be disparaged or treated casually," Mutula said.

He said he has already sought a meeting with the PM to discuss the issue, arguing it is important that the public should have confidence in the officers going through the PSC.

"The PSC’s work is to receive applications and recommend but not appoint," Mutula said.

He said members of the Constitutional Implementation Committee (CIC) were also recommended by the PSC and there has never been any complaints or complications.

Mutula also said there was no need for hurry in the appointment of the new CJ after the expiry of Gicheru’s term Sunday.

He said the transitional clause does not say that the new CJ has to take office on February 28, arguing that an acting CJ could be appointed before a new official is appointed.

The process of getting a new CJ could take between 30 to 60 days, Mutula explained. A member of the JSC Ahmednassir Abdillahi said the commission would elect a vice chairperson to replace the CJ, who has been chairing it.

The vice chairperson would act as the chair until a new CJ is appointed, Abdillahi said.

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