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Court halts Waiguru impeachment process over coronavirus

Tuesday April 07 2020
Waiguru

Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru faces the Senate's Health Committee at Parliament buildings in Nairobi on October 15, 2019, regarding operations at the Kerugoya County Referral Hospital. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By MAUREEN KAKAH

The High Court has suspended impeachment proceedings against Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru, citing effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Judge Weldon Korir ruled on Tuesday that the Kirinyaga assembly should wait for the Covid-19 disease to be contained.

Mr Korir explained that holding the impeachment proceedings at this time will automatically prejudice Governor Waiguru's political rights as well as that of fair administration and hearing.

“In my view, the unique circumstances posed by the Covid-19 pandemic impose a duty to the court to interfere with the county assembly's mandate in so far as the impeachment proceeding is concerned," he said.

"The governor's rights are threatened [and] the doctrine of public participation will be violated."

However, the judge was quick to note that were it not for pandemic, he would not have heeded to Ms Waiguru's request to halt the impeachment process.

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He added that since the county chief informed the court of compliance with the directive of working from home, she is required to present herself before the assembly to defend herself during the proceedings, alongside her lawyers.

PUBLIC PARTICIPATION

The assembly had already embarked on the process of asking the public to submit a memorandum on the impeachment because rallies and gatherings are banned as part of nationwide measures to curb spread of the coronavirus.

The judge ruled that voters' should be loud and clear in such matters because they are the real masters.

Mr Korir said it is evident that public participation will be affected by the pandemic as meetings and rallies - the cheapest and easiest methods to collect the public's views - cannot be held and technology may be a challenge.

“ I do not find merit in the claim that the motion be stopped because it lacks necessary threshold or that the process is in bad faith but because of the Covid19 pandemic. How does this affect the operations of the assembly? This is exceptional and should be considered,” he said.

He said the people must be involved through qualitative and quantitative participation.

OTHER SUIT

The judge ruled in the case in which Ms Waiguru sued the Kirinyaga assembly and its Speaker on March 31, seeking to stop her impending impeachment process.

Two MCAs - Maureen Mwangi and Kepha Kariuki - had filed a suit a day earlier seeking to halt the proceedings as sittings cannot be held due to the virus.

The judge dismissed their suit, saying that the court will not be used to advance the agenda of the minority in overturning the majority's vote.

He said no constitutional organ should use the coronavirus as an opportunity to micromanage operations.

Judge Korir further said he is confident that all public offices are reasonable enough to make proper decisions during crises while respecting the law.

He said the court has no powers to adjourn the assembly's sittings because the same house which may be required to convene urgently to debate an issue related to the Covid-19 disease.

WAIGURU'S ARGUMENTS

The motion for Governor Waiguru's impeachment was tabled before the house committee on April 1 and was to be debated  in the assembly after seven days.

She says some MCAs are unhappy with the court decision which suspended the resolution by the house to abolish the directorate of liaison and communication.

Governor Waiguru also argues that the timing of the impeachment is suspect since she cannot adequately prepare her defence as only a few staff members are in office following the directive on social distancing.

She further told court that she suffers form hypertension and is working from home to prevent the risk of infection with the coronavirus as public servants with existing medical conditions were advised to do so to reduce their susceptibility to the illness.

DEMOCRACY

Governor Waiguru also notes that Kirinyaga's residents are complying with measures put in place by the national government to stop the spread of the virus, so they will be denied the opportunity to participate in the process.

She adds that the proceedings cannot take place without her input and that of the public as this would amount to a mockery of democracy.

But the assembly notes that it has taken steps such as use of hand sanitisers and masks to ensure the public is protected during the process.

It also says it will use technology to allow a fair hearing and public participation.

The cases will be mentioned on May 14.

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