Kenya’s judiciary budget restored after outcry: “We are even unable to pay for Wi-Fi”

By Morris Kiruga, in Nairobi

Posted on Friday, 8 November 2019 15:20
A view shows the Judiciary entrance of the Supreme Court building in Nairobi, Kenya, September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

The Kenyan government restored the Judiciary’s budget, just days after the Chief Justice blamed the Executive of multiple infractions.

On Monday, 4 November, Chief Justice David Maraga said the crucial arm of government he leads was suffering from “deliberate attempts to undermine [it].”

In a televised press briefing that centred on budget cuts, he also cited multiple instances where he has personally been frustrated by President Kenyatta’s handlers.

The executive arm of government in September introduced wide-ranging austerity measures meant to close the gap between revenue and spending. It cut the Judiciary’s budget by Shs 3 billion (approximately $29.2 million), leaving it with Shs. 11.5 billion ($111.8m).

The Judiciary had originally requested for Shs 31.2 billion ($306.6m) — as part of budget cuts totalling Shs 131 billion ($1.3bn) from other government units.

  • In October, the Judiciary suspended mobile courts, asked judges to spend their own money, and instituted austerity measures, with one chief magistrate asking staff to use the “available meagre resources” efficiently.
  • The Law Society of Kenya sued the Executive over the budget cuts, securing a stay order from a judge in late October.

“We are even unable to pay for Wi-Fi,” Maraga said, pointing to the fact that the budget cuts included a complete scrapping of the Judiciary’s ICT budget.

“In some decisions the Judiciary makes, they are bound to clash with some officials in government. It is for this reason that some officials in government are crippling the Judiciary by starving it of funds,” he claimed.

Budget restored

After Maraga’s scathing press conference made the headlines, the Executive responded by restoring the Judiciary’s entire budget. An internal memo sent on 5 November by Chief Registrar Anne Amadi said the Judiciary’s budget “has been restored” and “work plans should proceed as planned.”

But the Executive still believes the Judiciary, like other arms of government, should be part of the ongoing austerity reforms.

  • “If our revenue has fallen short of the target by certain amount, which arm of the government should bear the whole responsibility?” Treasury CS Ukur Yattani asked during a television interview. “We have instituted measures that we continue funding activities and programmes based on the availability of the exchequer. You can have your money, you can even carry it forward, but we will release the money to you based on what we can afford at that period.”

Since an off-the-cuff threat by President Kenyatta to “revisit” the Judiciary after the Supreme Court nullified his August 2017 win, triggering a second presidential election, the two arms of government have had a tense relationship. According to Maraga, the executive arm has been frustrating him by denying him access to the President, as well as crucial protocol, such as vehicles.

  • “When I go to other countries, I am treated very well, and I wonder what is happening in my own country,” Maraga said. “I am told that some ministers and Principle Secretaries are bragging that the CJ will or should be removed before the end of this year.”

At least two members of Kenyatta’s Cabinet are said to be at the centre of the efforts to oust Chief Justice Maraga, The Star newspaper reported.

In a related dispute, the Judiciary’s employer — the Judiciary Service Commission (JSC) — has accused Kenya’s spy agency of withholding vital information on new appellate court judges. President Kenyatta has refused to gazette judges nominated by the JSC in July, citing “integrity concerns.”

The dispute is the subject of an ongoing suit by a Nairobi lawyer.

  • “By a letter dated July 21, 2019, the National Intelligence Service responded that it had discharged its obligations in its first letter and it does not provide details of the adverse reports,” Chief Registrar Anne Amadi wrote in an affidavit, “The process of the recruitment of judges had been postponed and extended to receive the alleged adverse reports and particulars from NIS, but none were received.”

Bottom line: The disputes between the two crucial arms of government could derail the war on corruption, which is one of President Kenyatta’s main goals as he tries to steady and revive the Kenyan economy.

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