Witness protection programme kicks off

May 9, 2008 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, May 8 – The government has scaled up the war against organised crime and corruption following the launch of a witness protection programme, which came into being after the publication of the Witness Protection Act.

The law provides for the protection of witnesses in criminal cases, including whistle blowers, by concealing their identities to shield them from victimisation.

It’s expected it will bolster the anti-graft war because it is likely to motivate potential whistle blowers who have been put off by the tribulations of former public servants who exposed corruption scandals.

The law received Presidential assent last year and established a witness protection programme, which would be coordinated by the Attorney General on behalf of the police and other law enforcement agencies.

Under the programme, which was launched Thursday, a new identity would be established for the witness and the person, and his/her family relocated to guarantee their safety.

It vests in the High Court the authority to order the appropriate officer to make new entries in the register of births, deaths or marriages.

The law imposes a sentence of seven years for any person convicted of blowing the cover of an individual, who is a beneficiary of the programme.

The programme measures the nature of the risk posed and whether the witness, in view of his/her background or character, would pose a danger to society if shielded.

However, the law does not extend a blanket protection to cover witnesses appearing before all legal proceedings, even quasi-judicial ones like commissions of inquiry and parliamentary committees.

Attorney General Amos Wako, while launching the programme, said only persons with direct evidence could implicate perpetrators: “Experiences elsewhere have demonstrated that the witness protection programme is a vital compliment to the criminal justice system, which ensures that the culture of impunity is eliminated by getting sufficient evidence from those who may be in possession of it.”

Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Martha Karua said the new law comes at an ideal time and would greatly assist investigations into the post election turmoil.

“We have been asking sometimes the police commissioner why we are not having more prosecution for offences committed in the first quarter of this year and the answer we get is that sometimes the witnesses are declining to give statements for fear of reprisals. This is really going to help in ensuring that citizens get an efficient justice system,” Karua observed.

Kenya is the 2nd country in Africa to implement the programme after South Africa.


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