The anti-corruption commission is facing a new obstacle that could derail its operations as it prepares to vet aspirants for the General Election.
Two activists moved to court this week seeking to stop newly contracted staff, including acting secretary Jane Muthaura, from taking office at the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission until they are vetted as stipulated in a law passed last year.
The two, John Abok Garang and Caleb Okech, argue that Ms Muthaura and some senior EACC officials should stay away until they are found suitable to hold office. They also want the officials stopped from receiving salaries until they take the oath of office.
High Court judge Philomena Mwilu certified the case as urgent and fixed it for hearing in the presence of both parties on August 13. The case is the latest hiccup for the newly reconstituted commission.
Since May, the new chairman, Mr Mumo Matemu, and two commissioners, Prof Jane Onsongo and Ms Irene Keino, have not been sworn in, following two cases that are yet to be determined.
One was filed in Nakuru by human rights activists who successfully blocked Mr Matemu from being sworn in over integrity issues. The High Court will rule on the matter on September 20. In addition to the Nakuru case targeting Mr Matemu, his team was also facing another in Nyamira filed by local teachers.
However, the teachers have since withdrawn the case, which means Prof Onsongo and Ms Keino are free to be sworn in unless the suit filed on Friday stands in their way. But swearing in the two may not make much sense since the agency would only be complete when the chairman and commissioners are in place.
The delays in assembling the leadership of the commission could prove costly not only to the fight against corruption but also to the highly anticipated vetting of political aspirants.
Last month, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission chairman Issack Hassan said Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Eldoret North MP William Ruto were among people who would have to be vetted by the EACC to determine whether they can contest the presidential election. He said the two would only be blocked if they are not cleared by the ethics commission.
“The Integrity Bill will give the ethics commission powers to clear candidates, and this is one of the documents that we will require candidates to present once they come to seek nomination from us,” he said.
Additionally, Mr Hassan said, Kenyans should wait for the outcome of a case that seeks to have the court rule on whether Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto can run for office while facing trial at The Hague relating to the 2007-2008 post-election violence. Hearing of the case began last week.
The Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution has invited public views on the Leadership and Integrity Bill that seeks to set integrity benchmarks for politicians and public officers.
In its current form, the Bill would allow Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto to run. It holds that a candidate can only be locked out if charges facing them are proved and all avenues of appeal exhausted.
In May, the EACC was among four constitutional commissions that formed a joint team to vet aspirants.
Others that were part of the Joint Vetting Committee included the IEBC, Commission on Administrative Justice and Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The commissions mandated to carry out the vetting process will harmonise their roles under the new committee to vet aspirants and State appointees in a well-co-ordinated and more meaningful manner, said CAJ chairman Otiende Amollo.
“Instead of doing it separately, we want to find out a clear way of doing it jointly,” he said.
Mr Matemu has been battling claims that while working as commissioner of the KRA he failed to collect Sh2.4 billion in taxes from Kingsway Motors.
Ikolomani MP Boni Khalwale had tabled documents in Parliament claiming that Mr Matemu, then the commissioner in charge of legal and support services, failed to collect the taxes even after Speedway Commercial Agencies, the company contracted by KRA to collect the money, sought to do so.
And when Speedway went to court to force Kingsway to pay up, Mr Matemu failed to defend the matter in court, Dr Khalwale said.
The MP accused former KRA boss Michael Waweru and the current one, Mr John Njiraini, of failing to address that failure.
But Mr Matemu’s supporters argue the allegations against him are ill-intentioned since as commissioner in charge of support services, he was only responsible for legal advice and litigation, a mandate outside that of collecting taxes.