A crisis looms in the Judiciary that will reverse critical gains in the justice system.
An acute 50 per cent budget cut will hugely upset the balance that has been created in the recent past with case backlogs, mediation efforts and tribunal sittings being some of the affected areas.
The Judiciary has introduced drastic measures to cut its recurrent and development expenditure by 50 per cent after the National Treasury slashed its budget in the 2019/2020 Financial Year.
In an internal memo dated October 9, seen by the Nation, all directors, registrars, head spending units and head of stations have been instructed by Judiciary Chief Registrar Anne Amadi to adhere to the set measures to ensure no expenditure is incurred without sufficient budget provision, which would result to accumulation of pending bills.
“Reference is made to the National Treasury circular No14A dated 24th September 2019 on guidelines for the preparation of the Financial Year 2019/20 Supplementary Estimates No. 1, which is hereby attached for ease of reference.
"The circular has proposed drastic reduction for both recurrent and development budget by Sh1.493 billion and Sh1.404 billion respectively,” read part of the circular by Ms Amadi.
Law Society of Kenya President Allen Gichuhi has listed more than 10 areas that will be affected immediately.
They include pro bono service funds, internet and ICT services, small claims court that are supposed to improve service delivery to Wanjiku and stalling of development projects by up to 90 per cent.
As a result of the drastic cuts, at least one tribunal, the Cooperative Tribunal, has suspended hearings from October until December, or as soon as funds become available.
The tribunal will continue handling only certificates of urgency and administrative matters, according to a memo from the tribunal’s chief executive George Siro.
A number of tribunals are understood to have either issued similar memos or are also considering suspending their sittings because of the budget cuts.
Tribunals’ suspension of sittings could hit many litigants hard as some of the matters were just about to conclude.
With no certain date as to when the sittings will resume, it means the litigants have also been left in limbo.
Though budget cuts affect the entire government, the Judiciary has, in recent years, suffered unexplained reductions.
In 2018, the unexplained cuts left the Judiciary with less than half of the total budget they had requested from the government for the 2018/19 financial year.
It had requested Sh31.2 billion but it was slashed to Sh17.3 billion in the Budgetary Policy Statement.
In the Appropriation Act, MPs further reduced the institution’s total budget to Sh14.5 billion, including just Sh50 million for development.
CAUTION ON SPENDING
In the statement, Ms Amadi said the office of the Chief Justice is reaching out to the National Treasury and the National Assembly with the aim of ensuring that the reductions are reversed and the budget is not affected by the contents of the circular.
“All spending units are hereby directed to review their approved work plans and align funding of activities to the reduced budget as indicated in the table above. Caution should be exercised so that statutory obligations continue to be fulfilled,” the memo said.
Measures taken to cut spending by more than a half include rationalising newspapers given to staff to restricting spending to a quarter of the current budget, as payment of meal allowances, provision of teas, snacks and lunches, even as outside catering remains suspended.
Kenyans who have been enjoying closer services through mobile court sessions and service weeks will have to contend with the gazetted court services, as all scheduled mobile courts for the period between October to December this year have been suspended.
The Judiciary has also suspended all retreats, workshops and education trainings as strict usage of vehicles have been outlined to cut expenditures.
“Except for donor-funded or for statutory requirements, all retreats, workshops and any activity outside the duty station be suspended until otherwise advised and all sponsored courses will be conducted in the country after approval by the training committee and within the available budget,” Ms Amadi said.
Additional reporting by Walter Menya