President Uhuru Kenyatta has kicked off a process that seeks to lockout lawyer MPs and other State officers from engaging in private practice.
Uhuru said that it was a “profound conflict of interest” for legislators elected to oversight other arms of government to appear in court as counsel for personal gain.
Consequently, the president directed Attorney General Kihara Kariuki to prepare the Conflict of Interest Bill for Cabinet approval before submission to Parliament in a move aimed at barring all State officers from using their public office as a platform to advance other personal interests.
The directive by Uhuru comes after the appearance of senators Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo Marakwet) and Mutula Kilonzo Jnr (Makueni) in court to defend embattled Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko who is facing corruption charges.
It has become a common occurrence for senators who are also lawyers to run to court in defence of governors facing corruption charges in a clear conflict of interest as they are mandated to protect the devolved units from misappropriation of taxpayers’ monies.
Senate Minority leader James Orengo was also among lawyers who appeared for Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu and Busia Governor Sospeter Ojamong’ over corruption-related charges.
Lawmakers who are lawyers have, however, in the past protested attempts to gag them from engaging in private practice.
But while addressing the nation during Jamhuri Day celebrations, the president said that it was not fair for lawmakers – who have control over funds and exercise oversight over the Judiciary – to appear in courts as counsel as it would be intimidating to the judicial officers handling the matters.
“Is it fair and right for legislators who have control over funds and exercise oversight over the Judiciary to appear in courts as counsel? Is it fair on the judicial officer hearing the case or the other parties that, one party in the case is represented by persons who can literally change the law applicable to the dispute, control the career progression of the judge or magistrate or are able to speak with the voice of an entire arm of Government?” posed Uhuru.
He added: “A teacher in the public service cannot have one foot in the classroom and the other in parliament. One cannot serve as a legislator at the national or county level while at the same time practicing law, whether or not for gain.”
Uhuru said there will be no two-way about it and declared that those in public service will have to choose to “either serve the public in the role they have been assigned or as private practitioners.
Similarly, Uhuru said that doctors, engineers, accountants and other professionals who take up public office, should give up a private practice and devote their full time on their public duties. Doctors, in particular, have been accused of running private hospitals depriving public facilities of human resource as they spend more time in their private facilities.
He said this will end any form of conflict and perception that public officers are using their office as a mere platform to advance other interests. He made the remarks as he reaffirmed his commitment in the fight against corruption, vowing that it will continue until the country weeds out public officers who use their positions to fleece public coffers.