NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 12 – Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Mutula Kilonzo wants the police and State prosecuting agencies removed from the Witness Protection Agency (WPA) Advisory Board.
Speaking during the agency’s launch in Nairobi on Friday, Mr Kilonzo argued that de-linking them would help protect the agency from outside interference as well as promote confidentiality in the implementation of its mandate.
The Advisory Board which was also launched has Police Commissioner Matthew Iteere, Prisons Commissioner Isaiah Osugo and the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keriako Tobiko as some of its members.
The other members are Attorney General Amos Wako (who vacates office in 14 days), Mr Kilonzo and Kenya National Human Rights and Equalities Commission Chairperson Florence Jaoko.
While quoting a book titled Witness Protection in Africa by Chris Mahony, Mr Kilonzo stressed the importance of the agency’s independence saying it should remain autonomous.
“Then at page 12 he writes as follows ‘witness protection best practices call for a unit independent from the police and state prosecuting authorities, mark the word independent, in order to maintain objectivity, operational readiness and accountability’,” he said.
Attorney General Amos Wako however down played Mr Kilonzo’s concerns saying that the Advisory Board would not be involved in the agency’s operational decisions as it would only advise on policy formulation.
“It is not called the Executive Board. In other words, the board will not even know who is being protected, where or how. The board is just there to advise the agency, generally, on the exercise of its powers and functions,” he argued.
Mr Kilonzo however maintained that their place in the advisory board was still an indirect conflict of interest although he admitted that there was still room for improvement.
With the Witness Protection Agency launched, Kenya becomes the second African state to have such a body after South Africa. Funding however remains a key challenge noting that the government only allocated Sh200 million for its activities in the current financial year.
“This allocation is just a drop in the ocean and we have to look to our development partners to help us with the funding,” said Mr Wako.
Mr Kilonzo also, in the past, taken issue with the agency’s inadequate funding saying it should receive a minimum of Sh1.2 billion in order to effectively carry out its role.
The Witness Protection Agency, which had been a department under the State Law Office, will be chaired by Alice Ondieki who acted as its director until it was launched.
Mr Tobiko noted that it took three years before the agency was de-linked from the AG’s office.
Also present during the launch was Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Baraza.
This comes at a time when six prominent Kenyans are being sought by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over their alleged role in the 2007 post election violence.
The six are also scheduled to travel to The Hague in September for the confirmation of charges hearings where they will for the first time meet witnesses testifying against them. The six will also be allowed to present their own witnesses.
Kenya attempted to block the ICC bid arguing that it was capable of investigating and prosecuting the six locally. However the ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo rubbished the attempt and raised concerns over the country’s ability to protect witnesses.
In May a delegation from the Court visited Kenya’s national human rights commission with a view of reviewing and analyzing the country’s ability to protect witnesses.