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Reinstated Kakamega board members blocked from accessing office

Kakamega County Public Service Board Members led by their Chair Catherine Omweno (left) Joel Omukoko (second right) Ralph Wangatia (right)and their lawyer Carliestous Shifwoka (center) during judgement of their case at Kakamega High court on June 6, 2024. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

The Kakamega county government risks being in contempt of court after blocking members of County Public Service Board (CPSB) who were reinstated by the court from accessing their offices.

The CPSB chairperson Catherine Omweno and members Stanley Were, Ralph Wangatiah, and Joel Omukoko found the offices locked when they reported to work yesterday.

They were forced to spend the day at the boardroom.

The Standard established that the County Chief of Staff met the board members and informed them that he was organising for a meeting with the governor before they can resume duty.

When contacted on why the county had locked the board members offices, the Chief of Staff said: "The board members should be patient until tomorrow (Tuesday) when officers concerned will be available and advise on the way forward."

Mr Were admitted that he met the board members.

"We met and talked with the board members and informed them that we are working round the clock to solve the issue at hand," he said.

Justice Jemimah Keli of the Employment and the Labour Relations Court last week ordered that the board members resume duty with immediate effect after she overturned their impeachment by the Kakamega county assembly.

The court also awarded each of the four board members Sh1 million in damages.

"The petition by members of the board succeeds, overall process was flawed as rights of the petitioners as guaranteed as those before court were violated," ruled Justice Keli.

The Judge found that MCAs who were not members of the County Public Service and Administration signed the impeachment report and the 'notice for attendance did not meet the threshold under the law.'

"On validity of reasons for removal, as the members were blamed for action of the governor, who was never questioned, the grounds under Article 251 of the Constitution were not established," she ruled.

"The assembly having determined the petition before it in the manner it did, it is functus officio, none remains hanging," she added.

"Reliefs granted, decision on removal and subsequent letters quashed as they violated the Constitution and the rush proceedings unlawful. The 1st, 2nd 3rd respondents are restrained from removing petitioners from office."

But the governor through his lawyer, Patrick Lutta, applied for stay orders to prevent the petitioners from resuming office on grounds that he intends to appeal the ruling.

Justice Keli said Barasa's argument was not arguable. “The application for stay of the court order of reinstatement to the office of the petitioners with immediate effect is disallowed. They have a right of appeal,” she said.

The Judge declared the decision to remove the board members from office by the county assembly unconstitutional, unlawful and tainted with illegalities.

“How can I decide there is an arguable appeal (by Barasa) without doubting my own decision? I agree with the petitioners that I would be sitting on my own appeal,” she said.

She said the presumption of constitutional validity in respect of the application by the governor was extinguished the moment the court issued its judgment.

“Having declared the impugned decision of the county Assembly of removal of the petitioners from office unconstitutional and unlawful, the presumption of constitutionality and lawfulness of the County Assembly process and resolutions was extinguished and the orders of stay if granted would be tantamount to enabling further violation of the petitioners rights,” the Judge ruled.

On December 14, 2023, the county assembly voted to impeach four out of six members of the board.

Vice chair Ambrose Subayi and member Sylvia Otunga survived the impeachment.

This is after the County Assembly Committee on Public Service and Administration chaired by Marama South MCA Willis Opuka recommended their removal from office through an impeachment motion. 

The impeachment arose from a decision by former Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya to terminate the contract of Catherine Gathoni as Secretary and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the board.

It is alleged that at one point Gathoni was earning from the Nakuru county government where served as an accountant and Kakamega where she held the position of CPSB chief executive officer.

Dennis Muhanda anchored his petition on the sacking of Gathoni.

The board was also battling claims of violation of Chapter 6 of the Constitution, breach of statute law, abuse of office, gross misconduct, conflict of interest, and incompetence.

Additionally, they had been accused of employing people with questionable academic qualifications and hiring 400 revenue clerks and 74 revenue officers without the approval of the cabinet.

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