Nakuru county officials to be sentenced for disobeying court

Justice Hellen Wasilwa. [George Njunge, Standard]

The Employment and Labour Relations Court has summoned three Nakuru County government officials for sentencing after they were found guilty of contempt of court.

The County Secretary Samuel Mwaura, Chief Executive Officer of the Public Service Board (PSB) Joyce Ndegwa and Chief Officer of Health John Murima face up to six months in jail.

They are supposed to appear before the court on July 4.  “The contemnors (Mwaura, Ndegwa, and Murima) are directed to appear before this court on July 4 for sentencing, without fail,” ruled Justice Hellen Wasilwa.

The Judge found the county officials guilty of disobeying a July 27, 2023 court order directing them to allow over 500 nurses to continue rendering services at Rift Valley Provision General Hospital (PGH).

The court orders also stopped the implementation of a county government circular dated May 31, 2023, that released the nurses from duty.

However, Justice Wasilwa noted that despite the ruling that the medical practitioners should continue working until a case by the Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) is concluded, the same was ignored.

The summons came even after the court was informed that the county government was pursuing dialogue with the nurses to resolve the matter.

Lawyer Jayalo Okore who was holding brief for Prof Tom Ojienda informed the court that the county is coming up with a new plan to ensure the matter is resolved.

On May 28, 2024, Justice Wasilwa ruled that there was no evidence indicating that the 500 KNUN members were issued with a notice that their employment was coming to an end.

“The contemnors filed no appeal to my orders of July 2023 and the orders are thus still in force. They are guilty of contempt of court and liable to punishment,” she ruled.

In the contempt application dated December 15, 2023, KNUN Industrial Relations Officer Eudius Nyambura said the three officials should be committed to a civil jail for disobeying the court’s orders.

“The contemnors should be jailed for six months and be denied audience before the court until they purge the contempt,” Nyambura submitted.

KNUN sued PSB and the county government as respondents and Dr Mwaura, Ms Ndegwa, and Dr Murima as contemnors.

The union accused the county government and its board of illegally terminating the employment of health workers.

“Due to the termination, they exposed casual and contract nurses to an immense and severe loss of livelihood and intense economic hardship,” KNUN said.

The union claimed that on August 24, 2023, the three publicly vowed not to honour the orders of the court.

In response, Murima said that they retained some nurses even after their contracts were terminated.

He explained that the nurses have short contracts which expired and there is no obligation to explain why they had not renewed the contracts of some nurses.

Murima said the orders could not be executed because of the county’s financial implications that are subject to budgetary allocations outside Nakuru county’s purview.

He argued that Nakuru county is under a strict budget and has no money to retain over 500 health workers released on June 30, 2023, plus those retained under contract from July 1, 2023.

The board submitted that the case by KNUN was premature and filed contrary to provisions of the Labour Relations Act, Employment Act and Public Service Commission Act.

“The respondent (KNUN) moved to court prematurely, without exhausting alternative dispute resolution mechanisms,” submitted the board.

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