How new law will enhance efficiency in the AG's office

Attorney General Justin Muturi before the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee to deliberate on the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendment) Bill) at the Mini Chambers, County Hall, Nairobi. February 13th,2024 [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

For the first time in decades, Parliament has backed much-needed reforms for the Attorney General’s office. 

The reforms awaiting presidential assent have opened the window for an efficient and professional outfit that will compete with the best legal firms. Implemented to the letter, the reforms prescribed in the law will save billions in litigation fees given to private law firms that have made government agencies their cash cow. 

There are three reasons to be upbeat about the reforms. First, putting all staff under the AG’s office makes it possible for the AG to deal with professional lethargy in his office due to demotivated staff. Dozens have not had promotions for years. The best were poached by other arms of government, which have more competitive pay packets.

It has been impossible for the AG to hire top legal talent within the rigid policies of the Public Service Commission – at a time when other arms within the justice system have the wherewithal to manage their human resource.

There’s a reason why Parliament, Judiciary, Office of Directorate of Public Prosecutions, have better terms for their staff. If the government wants to avoid making legal blunders or being beholden to faceless crafty buccaneers who can afford top-tier legal firms, the first step is to make sure it can attract top talent.

Second, the reforms are not just about staff. The architecture appears to be focused on service delivery – making the Attorney General’s office deliver across government and protecting the billions of taxpayer funds from litigation predators. At a time when Attorney General Justin Muturi is gearing to devolve the services to all 47 counties, having a competent unit – the advisory board – giving him counsel on how to do it efficiently and professionally, is something to celebrate.

It is incongruent to expect the AG to deliver devolution of the AG’s offices without the autonomy to hire and deploy staff. Third, the way the reforms are structured, giving room for the existing staff to work their way into the new dispensation is clever.

It will allow weeding out of incompetent staff; allow those who want to do the job to stay, and entice top talent to join the Attorney General’s office. Think of it this way – the AG, aside from being the top legal advisor to the government, is also the defender of government interests locally and abroad. He must be in a position to do the job, without unnecessary roadblocks on something as basic as staff. 

It was odd to see Public Service Commission chairman questioning the reforms in a newspaper article. It is easy to understand why: The reforms have exposed inefficiencies in having the PSC presiding over such hiring, promotions, deployments, and dismissal in a very important institution.

While the PSC is an independent institution, it appears to be deaf to the reason that all previous holders of the AG’s office have raised – the inability to compete with well-funded, well-paid, legal firms who want the government to pay. That excuse will be a thing of the past if the new reforms get implemented. 

The PSC chairman also asked “whether the AG can maintain independence from the national executive.” That’s a wrong question. The reforms are not about power. They are about service delivery. It is not about who is boss; it is about whether the person in Turkana who needs services from the public trustee can get them or if the AG will have to wait for PSC to hire. 

The writer is a former attorney at State Law Office