, NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 22 – When Justice Paul Kihara Kariuki walked into Parliament’s mini-chamber on Thursday to interview for the job of Attorney General, trailing him – as though stuck to a piece of gum at the bottom of his shoe – was the controversy surrounding what might very well be one of his last acts as President of the Court of Appeal, should the National Assembly approve his nomination.
On the eve of the October 26 repeat presidential election, he empanelled a bench – under what some viewed as suspicious circumstances – to hear an appeal against a High Court finding that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s process of recruiting Returning Officers, was irregular.
In a petition to the Judicial Service Commission, the former Chief Executive of the Law Society of Kenya Apollo Mboya accused Kariuki of abusing his office to do the bidding of the Executive; evidenced, he contended – not only by the nature of the orders which favoured President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration – but by the fact that the bench, which handed down the orders, was made up of judges stationed outside Nairobi and who sat under the cover of darkness.
And the legislators on the Committee of Appointments who interviewed Kariuki on Thursday did not pussyfoot around the issue with both the leaders of the Majority and Minority Aden Duale and John Mbadi inviting him to explain himself on the matter.
Initially Kihara expressed reluctance to discuss a matter that was under investigation by the JSC, but at Mbadi’s insistence, attempted to explain his actions.
On the day in question, he narrated, the courts were on vacation and the Appellate Court judges stationed in Malindi and Nyeri were in Nairobi.
He went on to explain that he made efforts to place the matter before the duty bench but it could not sit on the matter as it was not fully constituted; having been unable to “trace” one of the judges on the roster and so in what were “extraordinary circumstances,” he exercised his powers to empanel another bench to dispense with what was a time sensitive matter that could impact the conduct of the repeat presidential election scheduled to kick off at dawn the very next day.
And while Kariuki emphatically informed the Speaker of the National Assembly Justin Muturi ,who also chairs the Committee on Appointments, that it would be improper for him to say any more on the subject, he appeared to have successfully shaken loose the suspicion as the characteristically dogged MPs, backed off.
– Own man –
And if there were any lingering suspicions that Kariuki as AG would be nothing more than an “errand boy” of sorts for the Executive, they were quickly cleared up when he criticised the manner in which President Kenyatta – who nominated him for the job – and his political allies disparaged the Judiciary following the annulment of his August 8 presidential victory. “When we start pointing fingers at one another (as Arms of Government) in a destructive way, it serves no purpose.”
He also made it clear where he stood on the observance of court orders; the Executive – on Attorney General Githu Muigai’s watch – having earned a reputation for disregarding them. “There can be no question that an order of the court must be obeyed.”
And as any good guide will advise, never bad-mouth your former employer or in Kariuki’s case – likely soon-to-be former employer, in an interview.
And like any good student, Kariuki was judicious when addressing perceived shortcomings of the Judiciary, JSC and even Muigai whom he hopes to succeed.
It was his opinion that those elected to the JSC are required to undergo vetting by the National Assembly in the interest of public participation but drew the line at opining on whether those currently on the commission were procedurally admitted.
– Man of faith –
Kariuki’s religious convictions featured prominently during the interview and right from the onset when Kariuki, in his opening statement, made an effort to show how his religious upbringing shaped the man he is today.
Religion that is, and theatre. Both, he submitted, had served him greatly in his 16 years on the bench.
Kariuki presented himself as an open book and shared little anecdotes from his life – for instance, how he met his wife Sarah; both of them playing the role of sheep on the stage.
And in an effort to demonstrate his fidelity to the law, he told of how once, when exiting church and during the customary handshake at the doors, a priest leaned-in and whispered “naukumbuke yule ni mtu wetu” in reference to a matter before the courts.
That attempt to compromise his better judgement, he testified, didn’t sway him and neither, he assured, would the pressures of the Attorney General’s chambers.
Nonetheless, Homabay Town MP Peter Kaluma and Murang’a Woman Representative Sabina Chege made a last ditch effort to get the judge to reconsider his decision to accept the President’s invitation to serve as AG and preserve his good reputation.
The decision to take up the job, Kariuki informed them, was not taken lightly but after much prayer and reflection.
– In tray –
The Members of Parliament also brought to his attention the inefficiencies at the Office of the Attorney General in the areas of Asset Recovery, delayed compensation and lost cases.
In the case of the first, he assured he would be reviewing the suitability of the persons in-charge but chalked up lost cases, in part, to the poor funding of the state office.
Should he receive the National Assembly’s approval to take on the job of AG, Kariuki said he would also work to restore harmonious relations between all three arms of government and seek to improve the working relationship between the investigative authorities and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions through the amendment of governing legislation.
He also hinted at amendments where the National Lands Commission is concerned in an effort to support implementation of its recommendations.