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Ruto renews war on judges, says he had been warned of 'sabotage'

 President William Ruto. [PCS]

President William Ruto on Thursday intensified his onslaught on the Judiciary, accusing it of deliberately trying to stall key government projects, even as he attracted heavy criticism from a cross-section of leaders.

Two days after stating that his administration would not tolerate judicial impunity by corrupt judicial officers, President Ruto posted on X (formerly Twitter) Thursday, saying that he had been warned of “sabotage by corrupt judicial officers”.

“… the impunity of bribing judges so as not to derail, delay, or sabotage Kenya’s imminent transformation will never happen under my watch. Not a single cent will be used to bribe anybody. Mambo ya wafisadi wote ni yale nilisema,” posted the president on X (formerly Twitter).

The president has in recent days singled out the Housing Levy Fund and the newly introduced Social Health Insurance Fund, two of his flagship projects under the Kenya Kwanza agenda, as examples of how the Judiciary is frustrating his development agenda. He claimed that some beneficiaries of graft had teamed up with corrupt judicial officers to file endless litigation against his government.

“We must have a conversation with people taking cases to court to block development in this country. We must ask each other questions… a few people have gone to court and bribed the court to stop projects such as roads, universal health coverage and housing. We must talk about this,” said the president when speaking in Nyandarua County on Tuesday.

“What we will not allow is judicial tyranny and judicial impunity,” he added.

 A significant number of Kenyans responded to the President’s comments and the prevailing sentiment appeared to be one of skepticism and criticism.

“Glad that H.E. RUTO gives his word to fight corrupt judges. I know he means it. We need a national consensus like the IEBC consensus spearheaded by the President and Hon Raila to reform the judiciary, right from the Supreme Court down to the magistrate courts,” posted lawyer, Ahmednasir Abdullahi.

 At the same time, Kiambu Senator Karungo Wa Thang’wa said he had already written to the senate about his bill that will establish what he calls a policy court dedicated to handling cases challenging the government’s policies.

The court which will be a kin to the Employment and Environment courts will, if approved by the Senate, according to Thang’wa, hear and determine suits within a certain time frame.

The senator is also seeking to have the Judicial Service Commission restructured to tame judges and magistrates and ensure accountability, arguing that they too should e subjected to a periodic assessment similar to the evaluations politicians go through every five years during general elections.

  Kiambu Senator Karungo Wa Thang’wa. [Esther Jeruto, Standard]

Separately, Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka supported calls by the Law Society of Kenya and other organisations to protest the president’s attack against the judiciary.

“It is now evident that those who pretend to uphold the rule of law are now clearly exposing their true colours. They have paid lip service to the cardinal principles of the rule of law and the Constitution,” he said.

Kalonzo defended the judiciary against accusations of impunity observing that “six days ago, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court of Kenya dismissed an appeal by a former high court judge Said Juma Chitembwe and upheld the gross misconduct and breach of the code of conduct for judges finding by  the tribunal  which had been appointed to investigate the former judge’s conduct.”

Marakwet West MP Timothy Toroitich also criticised the Judiciary, accusing it of being used by the opposition to obstruct the Kenya Kwanza government development agenda.

Toroitich singled out Senator Okiya Omtatah for challenging the Finance Act at the High Court.

“The president should disregard these attempts to undermine the government’s initiatives. The administration would not be swayed by external pressures,” he said.

Toroitich emphasised that the Kenya Kwanza government will not be swayed by “noise makers,” referring to individuals or groups perceived as disrupting their agenda. He urged President Ruto to remain focused and disregard external pressures.

Ruto’s attacks drew sharp criticism from Chief Justice Martha Koome, who in an internal memo to judges and Judiciary staff,  condemned the president’s comments as a “recurring trend of discussing in public matters that are in courts”, noting that they only serve to intimidate judges to rule in a certain way.

The CJ urged the judges and judicial staff to continue exercising their duties by the law and without any undue influence from any authority, adding that the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) will protect them.

 Chief Justice Martha Koome. [File, Standard]

The CJ also said the attacks on judges undermine the values of the Constitution, adding that comments made on pending court matters violate the sub judice rule which prohibits public discussion on an ongoing case.

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga also criticised Ruto, warning that such comments from the head of state threaten to undermine the country’s democratic principles and could signal a regression to autocratic rule.

“Ruto’s threats against the judiciary pass as those of a leader who is ever getting frustrated by the reality of imminent abject failure,” he said.

While admitting there are bad elements in the Judiciary, Raila argued that the failure of high-profile cases and the prevalence of scandals reflect corruption within the ruling Kenya Kwanza coalition.

“The threats that the Kenya Kwanza regime continues to have must be seen in their correct context as a scapegoating and diversionary tactic on the pressing social and economic pressures the regime has subjected the people to,” Raila stated.

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