Embattled truth commission chairman Bethuel Kiplagat finally succumbed to pressure on Tuesday and stepped aside to allow a tribunal to investigate his conduct.
Rather than convene a press conference to make the announcement, Mr Kiplagat released a press statement stating he was stepping aside to allow the tribunal to investigate the allegations levelled against him. “In order to allow the Tribunal to carry out its mandate, I am, therefore, as of today stepping aside from my day-to-day responsibilities at the TJRC,” he said.
Reversed quit decision
In a dramatic turn of events, one of the foreign commissioners, Prof Ronald Slye reversed his decision to quit the commission, saying his faith in the truth body had been restored following Mr Kiplagat’s move. “The decision of the chairman to step aside has restored some of my faith in the ability of the commission to succeed. It is for this reason that I am withdrawing my intention to resign from the commission,” Prof Slye said at a press conference convened by the rest of the TJRC team to react to Mr Kiplagat’s move.
Welcoming Mr Kiplagat’s announcement, Justice minister Mutula Kilonzo said he had expected the embattled Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission boss to step aside.
He also asked the Treasury to release Sh408 million to enable the commission to discharge its mandate.
“I asked for Sh1.1 billion and the Treasury only gave Sh90 million which has been exhausted. I now expect the Treasury to give the commission Sh408 million to enable it move. Instead of Parliament intimidating Kiplagat and TJRC, it should be playing its oversight role by ensuring that TJRC is properly funded,” he stated. Mr Kilonzo also asked Chief Justice Evan Gicheru to reduce the period within which the tribunal ought to investigate Mr Kiplagat from six months to three months. “There is nothing much to investigate, just Ouko, the Wagalla massacre and the land issues,” he said.
Mr Kilonzo further asked the President to replace former TJRC vice-chair, Ms Betty Murungi, and Prof Slye, apparently unaware that the latter had reversed his decision to quit the body.
The commission also expressed optimism that Mr Kiplagat’s move would enable it to proceed with its mandate at a much faster pace.
“The chairman has acted within the law. I believe this will present us with the opportunity to proceed much faster without having to think about the allegations levelled against us,” said the TJRC chief executive officer, Ms Patricia Nyaundi.
Ms Nyaundi said that in Mr Kiplagat’s absence, commission vice-chair Tecla Namachanja Wanjala will head the truth body. “The law states that the vice-chairperson holds forte in the absence of the chair,” she said.
The move was also welcomed by the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs, Mr Ababu Namwamba. “I commend him for this honourable step and urge the tribunal to take no more than sixty days to deliver its verdict,” Mr Namwamba said from Tanzania.
He said the committee would meet the other TJRC commissioners on Friday to discuss the way forward.
Nation learnt that Mr Kiplagat had held a meeting with President Kibaki yesterday morning to notify him of the decision before formally making the announcement.
Mr Kiplagat said he welcomed the CJ’s move to appoint the tribunal which will investigate allegations into his conduct, noting that he has all along “maintained the need for this matter to be addressed fairly and decisively, according to the rule of law”.
On Friday, the CJ named a five member tribunal to investigate the embattled TJRC chair and make its recommendations within six months.
The tribunal will be chaired by former Appeal Judge William Deverell with a mandate to inquire into claims that Mr Kiplagat’s past conduct “erodes and compromises his legitimacy and credibility” as chair of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission.
Ms Nyaundi allayed fears that the commission may not be able to meet its time-lines following Mr Kiplagat’s move to step aside to enable the tribunal to investigate his suitability to chair the body.
“We are within the time-lines we have given ourselves, we are currently in the phase where we are taking statements and I believe we will be able to meet the timelines we have set,” she said.
According to the timelines, TJRC expects to compile its final report detailing historical records and recommendations on reparations, prosecutions, institutional reforms, amnesty and monuments by November 2011.
According to Section 52(1) of the TJRC Act, the commission “shall stand dissolved three months after submission of its report to the President.”In his statement, Mr Kiplagat said he believed in the constitutional right of every Kenyan to be presumed innocent unless otherwise proved in a court of law.
He said he saw the “Tribunal as an opportunity to finally put any doubts about my credibility to rest once and for all”.
The chair said the journey to his eventual decision to step aside had been difficult.
“However, it is my fundamental belief in the rule of law, my commitment to peace in this country and my sense of duty to those that appointed me and the many that support the Commission that has guided my every decision,” he said.
Last week, the Parliamentary Committee had given the TJRC a 72 hour ultimatum to put its house in order or the House initiates the process to disband it.
The mandate of the TJRC is to inquire into human rights violations including those committed by the state, groups or individuals. It includes but is not limited to politically motivated violence, assassinations, community displacements, settlements and evictions.