Government officials have nowhere to hide but to pay awards

Court has opened floor for litigants to criminally hunt officials over unpaid govt debt. [iStockphoto]

Public officials will now have a rough ride for withholding court awards. 

This is after High Court Judge Nixon Sifuna lifted sections of law that installed hurdles to anyone who won a case and shielded official from instant contempt of court.

Following Justice Sifuna’s verdict that Sections 21 and 13 are unconsitutional, a litigant can opt to immediately go after a government official for failing to pay.

Before, Government Proceedings Act (GPA) required a person to seek court intervention to force a public official to comply with a court order whenever an award is given.

At the same time, the law borrowed from the colonial master blocked anyone from going after the government before 30 days lapse of a notice.

This then became another case by itself.

Section 21 provided that no person would be personally held liable for government debt and the process of payment ought not to be criminalized.

The National Treasury building, Nairobi. [File, Standard]

For example, in Isaiah Ochanda’s case, he asked the High Court to jail then Defence Principal Secretary Saitoti Torome for failing to pay him Sh19 million in 2013.

Reduced fine

It took four years before Justice Roselyn Aburili ordered that Torome should pay Sh5 million fine or spend six months in jail.

However, the AG appealed in 2017 and the contempt application again dragged until September 22, 2023. Justice Hellen Omondi, John Mativo and Hannah Okwengu reduced the fine to Sh200,000 fine.

“We appreciate that the 2nd appellant was completely contemptuous of the court orders and that he deserved the maximum sentence provided by law. It matters not that the respondent subsequently paid part of the decree way after the orders were made,” they observed.

Justice Sifuna said that the government, just as any other litigant should pay immediately a notice issued.