, NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 7 – The Witness Protection Amendment Bill now awaits Presidential Assent after Parliament approved it on Wednesday.
Attorney General Amos Wako moved an amendment to increase the penalty to be meted out on any person who obstructs the work of the proposed Witness Protection Agency.
“The effect of this is to increase the fine from Sh500, 000 to one million shillings to any person who will interfere with the work of the officers of the Agency which we are establishing and for subsequent conviction it is a custodial sentence for up to five years,” he said.
The Bill intends to create a Witness Protection Agency for special protection of people with important information but who face risk and intimidation on account of cooperating with the prosecution and other security agents.
Witnesses have expressed concern over their lives amid claims of threats and intimidation by those targeted for investigations. The Agency will among others have powers to establish and maintain a witness protection programme.
It is also mandated with determining the criteria for admission and removal of a person from the programme.
The Bill comes at a time when ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo is expected in the country to initiate investigations into the post election violence.
Under the current legislation which was enacted in 2006 all aspects of witness protection are left to the AG. But if the Bill is assented into law the AG will be replaced by the Witness Protection Agency in all functions.
The agency will be headed by a director with a statutory security of tenure.
Witnesses will now be guaranteed State protection complete with the option of relocation should Parliament approve amendments to the Act.
During debate which began on Tuesday, MPs unanimously supported the Bill saying that following the 2007 post poll chaos, the need to review the Witness Protection Act of 2006 to accord crucial witnesses the option of state protection became paramount.
Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula said that the protection should be extended to judges who handle sensitive cases.
The Bill is also seeking to establish an Oversight Witness Protection Advisory Board, a Witness Protection Appeals Tribunal as well as a Victims Compensation Fund to ensure compensation for the death of any victim of a crime committed during the period when under state protection.
Protection of witnesses will include physical and armed protection, relocation of witness either within the country or abroad as well as change of identification of individuals, something the Witness Protection Unit currently under the office of Director of Public Prosecutions has failed to achieve.