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Egerton University's VC, eight council members jailed for 30 days

Justice David Nderitu, while sentencing them yesterday, said the VC and the management took the court orders casually. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Egerton University's vice-chancellor and eight University Council members have been jailed for 30 days.

This is after the Employment and Labour Relations Court found them guilty of contempt of court for disobeying a May 30, 2022, order to pay lecturers full salaries.

Justice David Nderitu, while sentencing them on December 8, said the VC and the management took the court orders casually.

He noted that the VC and four council members were absent during the sentencing. Of the five absent, two had no explanation for absconding court proceedings.

"Warrants of arrest are hereby issued against the two council members who have absconded the court," ordered Nderitu.

Nderitu said that even though the university has been facing financial problems, the management made no effort to mitigate the issues.

"The management did not engage the lecturers in a move to resolve the matter. No evidence has been brought in court to show the management has goodwill," he said.

He said that the management had other avenues to mitigate the situation, including declaring some of the staff redundant. 

He also insisted that the management should have approached the staff and engaged in dialogue to resolve the issues.

He insisted that the deferral of salaries can never be an option in resolving salary disputes.

“Why hasn’t the university management engaged the lecturers and the Ministry of Treasury over the matter?” wondered Nderitu.

The judge ruled that no evidence nor documents were presented before the court to demonstrate the VC and the council members were acting in good faith.

He took note that some members have been disobeying summons and court orders directing them to appear before the court.

This was demonstrated by the absence of the VC and four council members who failed to appear in court during sentencing.

The court heard that the VC and two of the members were sick and evidence was presented.

However, no explanation was filed to explain why councils Paul K’angira and John Ondari were absent.

He dismissed evidence filed before the court, noting they should have been filed during defence.

The judge considered mitigation for the nine. He noted that the VC and some members were elderly and sickly.

“I do not wish to send the officials to prisons and I would have hoped that an agreement or a resolution may have been reached because it would be beneficial,” he said.

Even with the mitigation, Nderitu ruled that the court needed to stamp authority and set a precedence that court orders must be obeyed.

“The VC and each of the council members are imprisoned for 30 days. They will alternatively pay a fine of Sh100,000 each,” ruled Nderitu.

He also ruled that the court will not give them any audience until they serve their punishment and resolve issues.

Once arrested, Nderitu ordered, the two councils will be presented in court on December 15 for further punishment and directions.

“Notwithstanding the fine or jail term, the two are expected to be arrested by the OCS Njoro Police Station and appear in court,” he ordered.

They will be expected to explain to the court why they were absent.

By the time the story went to the press, the four councils who were present in court were being held at the court awaiting fine payment or jail term if they default.

The nine were on Wednesday found guilty of contempt.

The university deducted 40 percent of UASU members’ salaries in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Aggrieved, UASU members downed their tools on November 15, 2021, and moved to court in 2022 and sued the nine.

The case will be mentioned on December 15.