Public hearings into the June 10 helicopter crash that killed former Internal Security minister George Saitoti, his deputy Orwa Ojode and four government officers will officially start on July 16.
The decision to push the hearings back for two weeks was arrived at yesterday after the probe team headed by Court of Appeal Judge Kalpana Rawal and the lawyers representing the bereaved families and the various parties agreed to come up with a structured programme to guide the commission proceedings.
The five-member team headed by Rawal was yesterday sworn into office for the second time to start its work officially as a Presidential Commission of Inquiry. The brief swearing in ceremony at the Supreme Court boardroom was presided over by Chief Justice Dr Willy Mutunga and the Attorney General Githu Muigai.
After the swearing in, the commission was officially launched at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre in the presence of the bereaved families, members of the public and senior government officials led by Justice Minister Eugene Wamalwa. Prof Saitoti's widow Margaret and Rebecca Tonkei, the widow of Saitoti's bodyguard Joshua Tonkei, also attended the launch at KICC. They were accompanied by scores of relatives and friends.
The Rawal team also visited the Kenya Police Airwing Unit at the Wilson Airport as a familiarisation tour into the probe. Fred Ngatia, representing Saitoti's family, requested the commission not to delay the probe by at least initiating the first step of visiting Wilson Airport where the helicopter took-off before crashing.
Even at Wilson, the commissioners limited themselves to questions surrounding the daily operations of the Police Airwing Unit and promised to delve into details of the crashed helicopter when formal hearings start. Police Airwing Commandant Rodgers Mbithi took the investigating team through an overview of what happens at the department starting with how pilots are assigned duty, how the communication is carried out, the maintenance of the choppers and servicing procedures.
The commission later held a brief session at the Airwing Unit where they agreed that statements from witnesses be taken within two weeks before the public hearings. Chief Inspector of Aircraft Accidents Clatus Macowenga and representatives from the DPP's and AG's offices are expected to take statements from key witnesses starting with Mbithi to enable the commission to have a work-plan.
The commission also agreed to move and store the wreckage at the Police Airwing hanger as investigations start. Rawal and the team said the wreckage will be moved from the crash scene in Ngong Forest tomorrow morning. During yesterday's launch at the KICC, the commissioners swore to conduct open and fair investigations.
One of the commissioners, Captain Peter Maranga, said despite previous doubts over the credibility of past commissions, this one will strive to get to the bottom of the matter and tell Kenyans what exactly happened in the crash. Judge Rawal said the commission has the powers to take action against anyone who tries to hinder the investigations. AG Muigai asked the public as well as interested parties to desist from using alternative forums to fuel speculation and instead to pass the information they have to the commission.