, NAIROBI, Kenya, Sept 23 – The government intends to amend the law to grant the Witness Protection Unit autonomy, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Keriako Tobiko said on Wednesday.
The DPP said that such independence would enable the Unit to be more effective in carrying out its mandate. He further called on Treasury to allocate it more funds.
“What we are working on presently is to convert the autonomy and independence of the unit. It is the Department of Public Prosecution that for the last one and a half years has been mid-wifing this process,” Mr Tobiko said.
“The department is stretched beyond its limits. Lack of resources and perception about independence and accountability have also arisen,” he said while also outlining proposals to help the State Law Office achieve this objective.
“It will have an advisory council that will comprise representatives of all the key players,” he explained.
The Witness Protection Act 2006 provides protection against harassment or intimidation of any form to a person who has given or agreed to give evidence on behalf of the State in a corruption case.
Section 33 of the law prohibits any action or proceeding against a person who has testified in court or given information to a law enforcement agency.
Whereas the law provides for protection to whistle blowers in the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act (ACEC), 2003 none of the two provides a penalty for those who harass witnesses or whistle blowers.
Kenya is the second country in Africa, after South Africa, to have witness protection legislation.
The Kenya Witness Protection Unit, comprising officers from the State Law Office, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, National Intelligence Security Services, Immigration, the police, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) and the office of the President was launched as part of reforms in the justice system.
The Director of Public Prosecutions says that in order to effectively prosecute and punish perpetrators of crime, there was an urgent need to set up a unit to protect witnesses.
He underscored the urgent need to have a fully operational and functional witness protection programme.
In the recent past, the need for witness protection has been demonstrated during investigations into the Goldenberg scandal, and similar scams, the post election violence investigations and investigations relating to terrorism and piracy.
Mr Tobiko stressed that the Witness Protection Act needed to be made more air-tight so as to seal any loopholes that may lead to its misuse.
“We have further witnessed intimidation and interference of witnesses especially those relating to sexual offences under the Sexual Offences Act and other penal laws,” Mr Tobiko stated.