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Have equity before the law

Thursday July 25 2019

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High Court Judge Mumbi Ngugi made a profound ruling on some of the laws applied in corruption and other criminal cases that undermine fair administration of justice. She declared that any public official, appointed or elected, should face similar and commensurate sanctions; that the weight of the law must be felt equally, irrespective of status or station.

The ruling brings clarity to the ambiguous and discriminatory provisions in the anti-corruption law that spell out penances for public and State officers accused of corruption or other criminal offences but exempt holders of elective and constitutional offices.

Section 62 (1-5) of the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act stipulates that any public and State officer implicated in graft or other wrongdoing stands suspended from office and entitled to only half pay. Contrastingly, subsection 6 of the article allows elected leaders and holders of constitutional offices to continue working and earn full benefits. This creates imaginary division between cadres of public officials and accords them differential treatment, negating the principle of equal treatment before the law.

This dichotomy has been exploited to the benefit of a few, creating a bad precedent. For example, several governors accused of either corruption or other criminal offences are still in office. And given that cases often take too long to conclude, it is possible that they may end up completing their full term in office yet they have heinous charges hanging over their heads. Yet public and State officers are forced out and penalised as soon as they are charged in court. This is quite discriminatory.

The maxim holds true: Not only must justice be done, it must be seen to be done. As a basic principle, all officials in positions of responsibility and leadership must be subjected to the same law.