Justin Muturi asks Judiciary to respect MPs summonses

The standoff between MPs and Chief Justice Martha Koome escalated yesterday after National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi warned the House may consider withholding funding for the Judiciary.

Muturi said the Judiciary has no option but to appear before parliamentary committees for scrutiny as well as to account for public resources in its disposal.

Koome last week froze further appearances by judicial officers before both the Senate and National Assembly, citing multiple and overlapping summonses by the two Houses.

The Chief Justice also accused MPs of pursuing “individual interests” and “harassing” judicial officers in the name of undertaking their oversight role.

But addressing the press on the sidelines of the 80th Executive Committee meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association – Africa Region – in Nairobi, Muturi said Parliament has a constitutional mandate to oversight all arms of government.

“World over, any Parliament relies very heavily on reports from the office of the Auditor General. When performing that function, Parliament has no option but to go by the rule of not condemning anyone unheard,” he said.

“By failing to appear deliberately, they should not blame Parliament for making whatever recommendations. Parliament would also be at liberty to among others withhold funding to any auditee that persistently shows that they don’t want to account for the public resources.”

Muturi said it would be unfortunate for the Judiciary to choose not to appear before the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to respond to queries flagged by the Auditor General.

He said the Judiciary should be in the forefront in making appearances before the committees as they are the custodians of the principle of “nobody should be condemned unheard”.

“Perhaps the CJ was addressing other issues. I don’t believe that she is saying that the Judiciary is going to be rogue and spend public resources as they deem and be accountable to nobody,” he said.

Key appointments in the Judiciary have been cited to be at the heart of the latest standoff and was triggered by PAC’s summons to the Human Resources Committee of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) over failure to appoint officers substantively.

Office of the Auditor General, in its 2018/19 report, flagged instances where senior officers have been in acting capacity for more than three years, contrary to the Judiciary HR policies. The committee had sought details about the scores for all candidates in two interviews held on September 17, 2015 and November 5, 2019 for the position of director of finance.

Further, the committee has demanded details of the difference in remuneration between the substantive holder of the position and the acting officer.

Current acting Head of Finance Susan Oyatsi, who participated in the two interviews, has since moved to court to stop hiring of a new head of finance after the Judiciary advertised the position for the third time.

Already, PAC through its chair Opiyo Wandayi (Ugunja) has written to Muturi, seeking guidance if they can write their report without a response from the Judiciary.

The move risks having top judicial officers indicted by Parliament on the audit queries.

“The Public Accounts Committee requests that you make a ruling on whether PAC, in the execution of its mandate, should treat all state organs and agencies equally or not,” the letter reads.

He also wants Muturi to rule on whether PAC can adopt and apply special standards in examining the Auditor General’s reports on the financial statements for the Judiciary and JSC.

In a letter dated July 7, Koome accused Parliament of disrespecting constitutional boundaries between the institutions.

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