Witness protection unit seeks autonomy

November 12, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 12 – Seven months after the launch of the State Witness Protection Unit (WPU), its director Alice Ondieki now wants the office delinked from the Attorney General.

Mrs Ondieki said on Thursday that there was great need to transform the Unit into an independent body to allow it to receive funding from other sources.

“It has become apparent that the Unit cannot function under the AG. The Cabinet memo is ready to be discussed before it is published for the general public. Once the Act is amended and the two offices are split, WPU will be able to access funds from donors and other consolidated parties unlike when it is joined to the AG’s office,” she explained.

Attorney General Amos Wako noted that Kenya’s Witness Protection Act (WPA) was enacted into law in 2006 becoming operational on November 1. He added that the implementation of the Act was promulgated on January 15.

“Since its inception the Witness Protection Unit has experienced some operational difficulties attributable largely to its lack of statutory independence and autonomy under the current legislation. Coupled with the fact that it is difficult for this program to be administered as a unit of government, its ability to recruit personnel and mobilise resources has been very difficult,” he observed further proposing the de-linking of the two units.

He seconded Mrs Ondieki’s sentiments saying that he was pleased the proposals for amendment of the WPA had been finalised and that the draft Witness Protection (Amendment) Bill was awaiting Cabinet approval.

“I expect the Amendment Bill to be debated by the National Assembly by December this year before its publication and enactment. I am confident that once the proposed amendments are enacted into law the witness protection agency will be able to administer the Witness Protection Programme effectively and in accordance with the best international standards,” he stated.

Mr Wako added that lack of capacity to implement the Act was a major challenge facing the Act.

“This Act is a new law with new concepts. We have limited best practices regionally to learn from. There is urgent need for us to create our internal capacity building process to equip the Witness Protection Unit personnel with skills to facilitate the implementation of the Act. In addition witness protection is a very expensive affair and we continue facing financial constraints to support it,” he held.

He proposed a multi disciplinary approach among the agencies at the national, regional and international levels and a desire for collaboration as the way for dealing with some of the challenges facing the unit.

“The Witness Protection Programme requires close working partnerships and effective inter-agency cooperation between national authorities,” he explained.

Mr Wako who was speaking during the East African regional conference on witness protection recalled that one of the resolutions of the Conference of State Parties at the United Nations Convention Against Organized Crime during its third session was the identification of witness protection as an area which could receive technical assistance and called on everyone to support it.

“Kenya has ratified two protocols of the United Nations Convention and I therefore appeal to all our friends and well wishers to support this initiative whether in the form of financial or technical assistance to enable us achieve the theme of the conference which is ‘Witness Protection in East Africa’.

He added that Kenya was the second African country after South Africa to have a Witness Protection Legislation as well as a Witness Protection Programme.

“The witness protection Act is a land mark legislation in the criminal justice system not just in Kenya but in Africa. Its objective is to protect witnesses and their families from threats, intimidation and even death for cooperating with the law,” he stated.

The multi agency witness protection unit comprises of officers who draw membership from the office of the AG, the Police, Provincial Administration and Internal security, National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS) Kenya Anti Corruption Commission and the Immigration and Registration of persons department.

It was officially launched on March 4 this year.

Its functions under section 4 of the Witness Protection Act and Regulation 3 of the same Act are: To operationalize the witness protection act and regulation by ensuring that proper protective measures are put in place for a witness; cooperate with other agencies where necessary in providing any of the protective measures stipulated in section 4 of the Act; advise and direct witnesses on where to obtain legal services for the purpose of protecting their rights; and assist witnesses when called to testify before a court of law.

Experts form all over the world including the United Kingdom, the United States, the Netherlands, South Africa, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, International Criminal Court and the Special Court for Sierra Leone have all come in to assist Kenya implement and operationalise its Witness Protection Act.

The highlights of the proposed amendments of the Witness Protection Act include:

Establishment and incorporation of a Witness Protection Agency to replace the existing Witness Protection Unit.

The agency shall be an independent and autonomous agency.

That the funding of the agency is derived directly from the consolidated fund and that the agency may be free to receive grants, gifts, donations or endowments and disburse them therefore having the ability to control and administer its own funds.

For administrational and administrative autonomy, that it shall appoint, control and supervise its own professional and technical staff.

The director, assistant directors and protection officers to have the power, privileges and immunities of a police officer.

That the agency shall perform its function under the act without interference from any authority and to have all powers necessary for that purpose.

For accountability and transparency of the agency, an oversight mechanism is provided in the form of an advisory board as well as an appeals tribunal.  


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