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AG Muturi under siege amid talk that his advise is being ignored

Politics
 Attorney General Justin Muturi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Attorney General Justin Muturi is in the crosshairs over his legal counsel, which some influential individuals feel has undermined their interests.

The chief government legal adviser is also in the spotlight as courts declare unconstitutional some of the major decisions by the Kenya Kwanza administration.

Muturi’s antagonists, sources say, have hatched an elaborate plan to isolate him from key decision-making.

Politicians and top civil servants who spoke in confidence said there has been a tussle between the AG and some state bureaucrats keen to fast-track projects Muturi is hesitant to approve for fear that they cannot pass legal scrutiny. 

The 67-year-old former Speaker of the National Assembly and lawmaker is among the few most experienced in President William Ruto’s Cabinet

He is the man the fledgling Ruto administration is banking on to side-step the legal minefields that come with the implementation of the ambitious agenda to revamp a struggling economy amid a severe cash crunch.

Muturi is said to have resisted appending the seal of approval to high-sounding projects and pending debt payouts that come with glaring legal red flags.  

Some government actors are said to be side-stepping the AG to have their way. 

In the recent controversy on money owed to Channel 2 Group of UAE by the national broadcaster KBC, Muturi appears to have been left out of the correspondence. 

Information and Communications Cabinet Secretary Edward Owalo on December 19 sent home the Acting Managing Director Samuel Maina for allegedly committing the corporation to pay $5 billion “without seeking the concurrence of the Ministry, National Treasury and Office of the Attorney General.”

However, it later emerged that the $5 billion was a typing error as Maina clarified that it was Sh5 billion.

It is the Solicitor General Shadrack Mose who wrote to Maina, in a letter seen by The Standard, acknowledging that a meeting on May 29 agreed that “…communication should be issued that the Ministry’s final monetary offer to settle this Arbitration ‘without prejudice’ is Sh5 billion”. 

CS Owalo and Principal Secretary for Broadcasting and Telecommunications Edward Kisiangani were represented in the meeting.

The Solicitor General copied the AG in his letter to Maina. 

In a follow-up letter, Maina wrote to Prof Kisiangani on August 31 seeking the way forward. This letter was only copied to the Solicitor General but not the AG.

By the time the CS was firing Maina, he had all the background information through his PS. 

The Standard has established that the AG had advised against the payment. According to sources, in June, Muturi defied instructions to pass through the Chief of Staff and Head of Public Service Felix Kosgey in the hiring of state counsel. 

He filled the vacant positions as stipulated in the Attorney General’s Act. 

He had also opposed the contract between the government and an American company that wanted to start exclusive manufacturing of vaccines in Kenya, pointing out that such a deal could only be a government-to-government contract. 

In October, Muturi told the Parliamentary Committee on Energy that Kenya Power had not sought advice from his office before entering power purchase deals with producers. 

Already, there is a plot through a Constitutional Amendment Bill in the National Assembly to move the emblem of the State seal from the AG to the office of the Chief of Staff and the Head of Public Service.

Some State Law office drafters confided that they were surprised when the Bill got to the National Assembly in November without the AG’s involvement and went on to the First Reading.  

Even Speaker Moses Wetang’ula was surprised by the fast-tracking and went out of his way to warn MPs to scrutinise the Bill noting that it could tear down constitutional articles that should not be interfered with. 

“Instead of adhering to the AG’s strict scrutiny, the powerful cliques prefer to side-step Muturi to the detriment of legal purity that is causing challenges in court to hit some otherwise noble projects like affordable housing and universal healthcare,” says a senior lawyer at the AG’s office.  

The AG was not reachable Saturday for comment. “We do not want to comment on the matter. Our boss is keen on helping the Head of State deliver on his Plan and manifesto for the people of Kenya,” said an aide who sought anonymity.

The Law Society of Kenya president, Eric Theuri, said: “Taking away the seal from the AG is not a good idea because the government needs to make legal and constitutional decisions when they enter into any engagements on behalf of the people of Kenya.” 

He added that the AG was the government’s legal advisor and “therefore his advice must be sought. He is the one who advises the government.”

Like his predecessor, Muturi continues to struggle with lean human resources due to poor remuneration. Insiders say in the last year alone, the office has lost 50 staff, most of them State counsel, to Parliament, which offers better pay. 

“Despite huge amounts of resources being expended in training, coaching, mentoring and induction, legal staff continue to leave for greener pastures,” said Kihara Kariuki, the former Attorney General.  

Recently, the AG’s push for the hiring of more experienced lawyers to handle cases against numerous legal applications filed against the State hit a snag when the Public Service Commission demanded control in the hiring and remuneration of the State counsel. 

The office now desperately needs 512 lawyers to bolster the current 424 for it to operate effectively, according to the current strategic plan. It is currently making do with 53 post-pupillage interns helping out with the work of defending and advising the government. Already, the government has lost in court several cases touching on infrastructural projects and the Budget. 

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