CJ Koome denies housing levy deal with executive

Chief Justice Martha Koome chats with President William Ruto at Safari Park Hotel during the launch of the annual report on the Administrative of Justice on Monday, December 2022. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Chief Justice Martha Koome has dismissed claims that the Judiciary entered into a pact with the Executive on the affordable housing levy.

While insisting that President William Ruto’s remarks were 'taken out of context', Koome argued that the Judiciary was sitting as an arbiter and her meeting with the president had nothing to do with the controversial levy.

“The Judiciary cannot enter into such agreement with any party, including the Executive, over a matter pending before the court. I want to assure Kenyans that the Judiciary was never a party to such an agreement but it handled the matter as an arbiter,” she said.

This comes after High Court Judge Chacha Mwita declined to block Ruto’s second bid to implement his pet project.

The Judge instead directed six persons who filed cases to serve the government with the court papers and appear for mention on May 16.

Human rights defenders Eliud Matindi, Gikenyi Magayi, Pualine Nduta, Philemon Abuga, Shallum Kaka and Jamlick Otondi are challenging the affordable housing law signed by President William Ruto on Tuesday.

Matindi argued that MPs were ingenious to beat Justices David Majanja, Christine Meoli and Lawrence Mugambi finding that housing levy discriminated against salaried workers.

He said MPs did not justify why salaried workers will be forced to pay the levy while the law is still silent on those who have no salary.

Matindi argued that it is also unclear how and why Kenya Kwanza based its allocation quota for those who have a lot of money and those who have less. He said this creates outright differentiation between the rich and the poor.

“By defining affordable housing in reference only to a percentage of a person’s monthly income and place of residence, the provision excludes persons who, though they may be in need of accessible and adequate housing under Article 43[1][b] of the Constitution, have no such monthly income. Further, the need for accessible and adequate housing is not dependent on whether a person lives in a rural or urban area,” argued Matindi.

Meanwhile, the judiciary and Parliament are set to face off over the proposal to merge special courts to be a part of the High Court.

CJ said that she had written to Parliament indicating that any move by MPs to collapse the Employment and Labour Relations Court (ELRC) and Environment and Lands Court (ELC) will be opposed.

Speaking during the ELRC Judges annual conference, Justice Koome said that the proposal to amend the Constitution for a ‘mixed grill’ High Court will not serve the intended purpose of the two courts.

“I have already written to the leaders of our Parliament, expressing the Judiciary’s position opposing the mixed-grill approach as proposed in the proposed constitutional amendments as not being the ideal,” said Koome.

Initially, employment and labour disputes were handled by the Industrial Court, which was under the Ministry of Labour. Its decisions would be appealed before the High Court.

However, after the promulgation of the Constitution, it was made a part of the Judiciary as a special court.

It was given the same status as the High Court.

On the other hand, the Environment and Land Court (ELC) was created following proposals in the National Lands Policy, 2009.

This was provided for in the 2010 Constitution and the Environment and Land Court Act, 2011.

Last year, ELC split into two divisions; one handling environment and climate change disputes and the other land cases.

Koome said that Kenyans made an informed decision to have the two courts run independently.

"There was an informed reason why Kenyans during the Constitution-making process demanded specialised attention to the areas of employment and labour relations, and also environment and land and that rationale has not gone away," she said.