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EACC given powers to demand salary refund

 Integrity Centre building that houses the EACC headquarters. [File, Standard]

The anti-graft commission has been given the power to surcharge any senior state officer who overpays their staff.

Justice Esther Maina ruled that the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) has the power to demand a refund from the state officers if it is established that they irregularly hiked the salaries of employees under their management.

"The commission has the mandate to enforce the payment for compensation from an individual who misuses public funds. Such a person is liable for any loss the public incurs and must be made to pay whether still in office or not," ruled Maina.

Justice Maina made the decision in a case that had been filed by Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) chief executive officer Charles Ringera challenging a move by EACC to surcharge him Sh491,852.

The commission had written a demand to Ringera in September 2021 to refund the money on account that he had irregularly and single-handedly reviewed the salary to one of the staff from Sh218,719 to Sh253,923 per month.

EACC said as a result of the review, the public lost Sh491,852 as the total over payment to the staff between 2019 and November 2020.

Ringera told the court the decision to surcharge him was unconstitutional and illegal since CEOs of state corporations have the power to review the salaries of their staff in accordance with the job description and performance.

According to Ringera, EACC discriminated against him by demanding that he repays the money while leaving out the person who benefited from the increased salaries.

He also said the commission lacked jurisdiction to determine and question salaries for state officers since all state corporations are semi-autonomous and have the power to determine the salary of their staff.

But Justice Maina dismissed his claims, saying the EACC has the power to enforce provisions on leadership and integrity to ensure state officers entrusted with public funds use them in a prudent manner.

"EACC was within the law which gives it authority to institute and conduct proceedings for purposes of the recovery of public property or confiscate proceeds of corruption. They did nothing wrong in demanding a refund of the overpaid salaries," Maina said.

She added that the Leadership and Integrity Act mandates the commission to oversee and enforce good leadership among state officers, including prudent use of public funds, and that Ringera's arguments that the commission acted maliciously does not hold water.

Justice Maina also dismissed claims by Ringera that he was discriminated when the commission singled him out, ruling that he was the boss at HELB and made the sole decision to increase the employee's salary.

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