Why things seem to be falling apart between Ruto, Judiciary

President William Ruto and Chief Justice Martha Koome. [File, Standard]

The honeymoon for the once-rosy relationship between President William Ruto and the Judiciary is waning. The novelty has worn thin, and indeed rubber has begun to meet the road for the Executive and the courts.

With the war between the two arms gathering tempo, the question is who will blink first between the Executive who has the yam, and the Judiciary who has the knife.

Sources at State House told The Standard that President Ruto had received intelligence alleging that some Judges had been paid by senior officials in the previous government to have the Judiciary halt some of the projects that were close to the ‘President’s heart’.

According to multiple sources at State House and in the Interior Ministry, a top official in his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta’s government was a key beneficiary of the cash paid to the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) and was keen to see the implementation of the Social Health Insurance Fund not take off.

“The President is not happy with the intelligence he has, some judicial officials according to what he knows, are keen on frustrating his pet projects. The President is not talking out of context, he is also determined to deal with the rogue Judges,” said a senior official at State House who sought anonymity.

During his New Year message to the country, President Ruto opened a new affront on the Judiciary, ending what had been a brief cordial courtship period.

Infuriated by the courts' interference in his flagship projects, Ruto said in his New Year message at Nakuru State Lodge that the Judiciary must make sure the best ideas always prevail in enhancing the well-being of the people on whose behalf the government acts.

Ruto said that in the quest to uphold constitutionalism, exercise institutional independence, and protect people’s rights, caution must be taken not to deny the very people legitimate opportunities like owning homes or accessing healthcare.

“This is what happens when a public servant, enjoying a house mortgage at a three per cent interest rate, makes decisions that frustrate the housing programme, robbing millions of youth of employment prospects and denying millions of Kenyans the chance to own a home like them,” he said.

The source said Ruto was keen to expose wayward Judges and would soon reach out to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to have them deal with the rot among their staff.

During his swearing-in on the 13th of September 2022, Ruto said that the Judiciary would have its space in the term of his presidency and went ahead to demonstrate the move by swearing in six Judges, fulfilling a promise he had made during the campaigns.

The Judges, including Court of Appeal Judges Weldon Korir, Aggrey Muchelule, George Odunga and Prof Joel Ngugi, plus two other Judges Makori Evans and Elizabeth Omange of the Land and Environment Court had been caught up in a cold war between former President Uhuru Kenyatta and the Judiciary.

The six Judges who had been rejected by former President Uhuru Kenyatta were among 40 others nominated in 2019 after a rigorous vetting exercise by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) between July and August of the same year.

Judiciary Building, Nairobi. [File, Standard]

Political analyst Javas Bigambo says the current public discourse is important for the country because it could give room for a balanced debate on how to deal with the questions in the Judiciary.

"I believe the debate is good for the country; it could head to possible reforms in the Judiciary akin to the radical surgery in the former President Mwai Kibaki (late) period where a bit of dirt was cleared in the arm of the government," said Bigambo.

Bigambo said just as the Legislature has been accused of being bribed in toilets, and the Executive has been on the firing line of the public over corruption, the rot in the Judiciary needs to be talked about as well.

"The politico-legal discourse is very important to the country. It is time to dissect all this and have a loud debate; those accusing the President on the debate are pushing a fragmented discourse," said Bigambo.

In the recent past, the Judiciary has boldly ruled against some of Ruto's proposals. The High Court, on November 28 last year, had declared the 1.5 per cent housing levy unconstitutional, throwing into disarray Ruto’s attempt to put up 200,000 housing units per year.

"The introduction of the housing levy... is discriminatory, irrational, and arbitrary and is in violation... of the Constitution," Justice David Majanja had said.

Another court had on November 27 issued conservatory orders against the implementation of three health Acts pending the determination of a petition on February 7, 2024.

Justice Chacha Mwita said he was satisfied that the petition filed by Joseph Aura raises important constitutional and legal questions that deserve urgent and serious consideration.

Already, Ruto’s confidants including his UDA secretary general Cleophas Malala, Kiambu senator Karungo wa Thang’wa, and Marakwet West MP Timothy Toroitich have hit out at the Judiciary and given suggestions on how to deal with what they believe to be ‘rogue judges’.

Malala in a statement noted that anyone who sabotages Kenya Kwanza projects must be called out for being an enemy of progress.

“This includes litigants and judicial officers who think they stand on a higher pedestal than that of millions of Kenyans, who gave the Executive arm led by President Ruto the mandate to alleviate them from the hardships they had been condemned to by the handshake brothers, where Raila was a principal,” said Malala.

He stated that President Ruto had lived true to the promises he made to the Judiciary and all independent offices, adding that, “He has ensured their financial allocations are increased to allow them to perform their duties effectively, and more especially in the fight against corruption.”