The government has bowed to local and international pressure to suspend a clampdown on organisations perceived to be opposition-leaning.
On Wednesday, Acting Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i overruled the NGOs Coordination Board and asked its executive director, Fazul Mahamed, to go slow on investigations on the reported non-tax compliance of Kenya Human Rights Commission and Africa Centre for Open Governance, which were ordered shut early this week pending a 90-day investigation.
In a letter to the board, Dr Matiang’i also directed his Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho to form a committee that will work with the board to review the tax status of the two organisations.
The committee, whose first meeting is on Friday, will be chaired by Interior Ministry Principal Administrative Secretary Joseph Irungu.
Principal Secretaries Kamau Thugge (Treasury), Monica Juma (Foreign Affairs), KRA Commissioner-General John Njiraini and Solicitor-General are members.
Others are Mr Mahamed, Director of Immigration Services Gordon Kihalang’wa, Africog executive director Gladwell Otieno, her KHRC counterpart George Kegoro and the NGO Council chief executive.
The minister said the review of the status of the organisations must ensure they meet the regulatory and compliance needs to avert distraction of their activities.
“While the correspondence contains weighty legal non-compliance and regulatory issues on the said organisations, my view is that before conclusive and final action such as deregistration, comprehensive and exhaustive engagements have to happen,” Dr Matiang’i said in the letter to Mr Mahamed.
This came as the civil society and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights demanded that Mr Fazul’s office be abolished “since it is illegal”.
KHRC chairman Makau Mutua demanded that the NGO watchdog’s decision to shut the lobbies be quashed.
“Dr Matiangi’s order is insufficient. Orders to deregister or ban KHRC and Africog must be vacated, not just suspended,” Prof Mutua said from New York.
And even with Dr Matiangi’s intervention, KRA officials and police officers were blocked from raiding Africog’s offices in Lavington, Nairobi.
Mr Harun Ndubi, the lawyer representing the group, said the search warrant presented by the team was defective.
“That affidavit signed by a chief inspector Ombati has no heading, so we don’t know if it is an order related to an application made or something else. It also does not suggest that it is an order against Africog or Ms Otieno,” Mr Ndubi said.
“The name of the magistrate who gave the order is not known. More importantly, the application is not brought under the revenue law but under section 75 of the Criminal Procedure Code. We consider the paper a forgery.”
KRA Legal Services Manager Sylvester Okello and investigator Edward Karanja called off the search, ostensibly to look into the complaints raised by the lawyer.
Mr Ndubi said the attempted raid was likely politically motivated, adding that Africog and KHRC would not take lightly efforts to shut them down.
“President Uhuru Kenyatta has never been comfortable with the human rights and governance organisations and has spoken openly against them,” Mr Ndubi said.
“There is a huge section of his administration that believes it is these organisations that took them to (the International Criminal Court) in The Hague and they have never forgiven them. It is a vendetta the government officials are carrying out.”
The board deregistered KHRC on August 14 and circulated a notification letter, which the commission said it had only seen in the social and mainstream media.
A day later, Mr Mahamed wrote to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations boss Ndegwa Muhoro asking him to shut down Africog and arrest its directors “for operating illegally”.
Mr Mahamed said Africog was not registered under the NGOs Coordination Act.
However, Africog’s chairperson John Githongo said the organisation was registered as a company, limited by guarantee and not an NGO, meaning the board had no power or right to deregister it.
“We are a legal entity by that respect and therefore have no relation with the NGO Coordination Board,” Mr Githongo said.
“With the NGO law replaced by the yet-to-be-implemented Public Benefits Organisation Act, the board has been operating illegally.”
PETITION POLL RESULTS
The Act is intended to create an enabling environment for the civil society and charitable organisations to thrive for public gain.
“With the PBO Act, the board ceases to exist. That is why there has been confusion on what authority this outfit purports to send letters around.
KRA is in possession of documents regarding our taxes and accounts. What they have done today (Wednesday) is a waste of public resources,” Mr Githongo said, adding that Africog was yet to receive official communication from the NGO board.
It is largely believed that plans by the organisations to lodge a petition against the presidential election results led to their attempted shutdown. Mr Githongo, a former anti-corruption commission boss, said although the organisations had a right to lodge a case against the August 8 presidential election results, he was not aware of such plans.