NAIROBI, Kenya Mar 3 – The National Assembly’s Communications Committee has ruled that IEBC Communications Manager Tabitha Mutemi will continue to be a board member at the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) because there is no petition to remove her.
The Committee Chairman Kipkemoi Kisang further urged the Attorney General’s office to submit a review on the controversy surrounding her hiring on claims that she holds two state positions.
The committee ruled that Tabitha can continue attending MCK’s board meetings pending the conclusion of the review as the committee prepares a comprehensive report based on Wednesday’s session.
The stand-off in Mutemi’s hiring as a board member at the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) deepened even further when parties involved failed to produce a letter containing an advisory opinion from the Attorney General’s office to the selection panel.
Solicitor General ken Ogeto told the Committee that the AG’s office had not authored such a letter to the panel that was chaired by Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) Secretary-General Erick Oduor.
The selection panel said it was aware that Tabitha was an employee of IEBC but it relied on the alleged letter in considering her application following an advisory from the Attorney General’s office. That advisory has not been produced and has been disowned by the AG’s office.
Ogeto had been summoned to shed light on the matter in a petition challenging an attempted removal of Muchemi as a board member of the MCK due to her other permanent job at the electoral commission.
Ogeto however, acknowledged having written a letter to Communications and Broadcasting Principal Secretary Esther Koimett when she sought an advisory opinion following complaints that Tabitha’s hiring as a board member at MCK violated the law that prohibits state officers from serving in two state jobs.
“The ministry through a letter dated September 16, 2020 advised Ms. Mutemi that she should not hold both positions and should by September 30, 2020 decide either to remain an MCK Council Member of IEBC employee,” the PS told the committee, adding that continued stay on both positions is a “continuing violation of the Constitution and other statutes requiring immediate remedial.”
A letter in January 2021 by MCK’s CEO David Omwoyo to the MCK board Chairman Muiruri that the Secretariat will not recognize Tabitha as a board member due to the alleged illegality in her employment sparked mixed reactions from various stakeholders, including the Kenya Editors Guild (KEG).
KEG President Churchil Otieno said the Guild was concerned at the impasse at MCK over the attempted removal of Tabitha as a board member.
“Insofar as it is the body mandated by the Constitution of Kenya to oversee the Media co-regulatory framework, it is our view that any actions which impact on the integrity and independence of the MCK by extension pose a threat to media freedom,” Churchil said in a statement.
The Guild was among bodies invited by the National Assembly’s departmental committee on Communication, Information and Innovation on Wednesday.
Others were the Media Council of Kenya, the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) and the Kenya Correspondents Association (KCA).
On Wednesday, Churchil told the committee that MCK had violated the law in Muchemi’s attempted ouster.
“Section 14 of the Media Council Act provides a procedure for removal of a member of the Media Council of Kenya,” he said, “To the best of our knowledge, and indeed to the best knowledge of media stakeholders, that procedure has so far not been invoked.”
He emphasised the need for MCK to remain independent to be able to execute its constitutional and statutory mandate.
Meanwhile, IEBC has said it will take action against its Tabitha for taking up the job at the Media Council of Kenya in contravention of the commission’s code of ethics.
Capital FM News has seen a letter by IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati to MCK’s Chairman Maina Muiruri who had sought clarity on whether Tabitha was still an employee at the commission.
“The Commission acknowledges Ms Tabitha Muchemi as an employee of IEBC,” Chebukati said in the letter dated March 1, “however, the commission was neither consulted nor notified of Ms Mutemi’s employment as a Board member of the Media Council of Kenya.”
He said MCK is at liberty to take appropriate legal action against her.
“In view of the foregoing development, the Commission will undertake action at an appropriate time in accordance with the IEBC Act and it’s Human Resource procedure,” Chebukati said.