Former Nyeri deputy governor Caroline Karugu has a reason to smile after a Nairobi court awarded her Sh8 million in salary arrears.
Employment and Labour Relations Court Justice Maureen Onyango ruled that an employer cannot stop paying salaries without following due procedure of law, terming the conduct of the county government unlawful. Justice Onyango found the devolved unit had violated sections four and six of the Fair Administrative Actions Act, which obligated it to be fair when taking disciplinary action against its employees.
"As per the Fair Administrative Actions Act, failure to furnish its employee with the reasons and proof taken for disciplinary action, the law presumes that the action taken was without good reason," the judge said.
The county had admitted that it had not communicated to Karugu before it decided to stop paying her.
"The county government has not tendered any evidence that any kind of disciplinary hearing or process took place regarding its claim that the applicants had absconded from duty," said Onyango.
The county in its defence said it stopped the payments after a routine staff-return report prepared at the end of the 2020/2021 financial year showed the applicant could not be accounted for because she had not been reporting to work. In the judgment, the court nullified the decision of the Nyeri county government executive committee that Dr Karugu failed to attend Cabinet meetings.
"From my reading of Section 41 of the County Government Act, there is no provision or requirement of the attendance of a Deputy Governor for meetings to be held and resolutions passed. The quorum of a County Executive Meeting constitutes half of the members being present. A resolution may pass by a majority of the members present," she observed.
Justice Onyango also ordered that Dr Karugu be paid up to Sh8m salary arrears.
"I have already found that the Respondent's withholding of the Claimant's salary was unfair and consequently award the Claimant her full salary from June 2021 to date being Sh8,076,250 which totals Sh621,250 per months for 13 months," she said.
The Court, however, declined to make any orders as to allowances in the absence of proof as the Claimant failed to supply any documents to show her entitlement. Karugu had claimed a refund of Sh442,107 in fuel expenses that she incurred while discharging her duties. She also sought house allowance, arguing that she was not housed or paid the stipend even as she continued to do community work.
Dr Karugu had sued governor Mutahi Kahiga and the County Secretary Benjamin Gachichio as the responsible officers withholding her salary without a just and lawful cause. Through lawyer Harrison Kinyanjui, the former DG said she last received her salary in November 2019.
In her application in September last year, Dr Karugu had asked the court to compel her boss to release her salary totalling more than Sh15 million withheld since November 2019. She had claimed that besides her withheld monthly salary of Sh685,250, she has been denied periodical phone and entertainment allowance last received in November 2018.
Dr Karugu had also accused the county of failing to renew her personal assistant's contract since 2019, transferring her staff to other departments and locking her office for the duration of 2020. She claimed she incurred Sh15,000 monthly in hiring guards to protect her.
Through lawyer Kamotho Njomo, the county had told the court that it stopped paying Ms Karugu because she had absconded from duty.