7 November 2012

Kenya: Reports on Judiciary 'Fuel Guzzlers' Misleading - Commission

Nairobi — The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on Wednesday strongly denied accusations that judges were abusing public resources by using vehicles with an engine capacity that exceeds the legal 2000cc limit.

This follows media reports that the Judiciary had bought 40 fuel guzzlers for judges, even though the ban for such vehicles for public officers was still in effect.

JSC Finance committee chairman Ahmednasir Abdullahi together with the Human Resource committee chairman Isaac Lenaola revealed that a new Mercedes Benz S350 was purchased for Chief Justice Willy Mutunga with the endorsement of the Treasury.

"The Chief Justice's old official car, a Mercedes Benz S320, was replaced after 12 years because it was becoming expensive to maintain on account of its age. Since the S320 is no longer in production, the equivalent S350 was bought with full approvals from the relevant offices," read the joint statement.

The two added that several other Toyota Prados were also bought for Court of Appeal Judges who hear cases outside Nairobi as well as administrative officers that exercise oversight nationally, even though the vehicles exceed the engine rating.

Abdullahi and Lenaola however argued that the Judiciary was working on the modalities of developing a sound car policy that would ensure its officers did not abuse public resources.

"The Judiciary is sensitive to the issue of official vehicles, and the need for prudence in the management of public resources placed under it. There has been a vigorous internal debate that has generated a comprehensive policy response, especially on the issue of vehicles" they said.

They also explained that it would be unfair to strip Judges of the vehicles at this point in time, arguing that they were part of their entitlements.

"Article 160 (4) of the Constitution states that the remuneration and benefits payable to or in respect of a Judge shall not be varied to the disadvantage of that Judge. This benefit cannot be withdrawn or varied without violating the Constitution," read their statement.

"Judges have all along used Mercedes Benz and Peugeot 504 saloon vehicles as official vehicles since the 1980s," they said.

The JSC further admitted that judges had rejected a proposed car loan scheme by the Treasury saying it would force them to make high monthly deductions that would grossly affect their take-home perks.

Abdullahi and Lenaola however added that a judicial staff car loan scheme would be rolled out next year to allow judges purchase vehicles of their choice and pay for them at their own pace.

"The car loan scheme proposed by Treasury was untenable because it was no longer going to be a benefit but a punishment to judges who would have to make monthly repayments that would unconstitutionally reduce their pay," argued the statement.

The two also revealed that there were plans to step down from Mercedes Benz to other vehicles that would offer the best value for money.

"We also wish to point out that the Judiciary has introduced a fuel card and vehicle tracking system that has reduced the fuel bill by 40 percent," the JSC statement asserted.

The JSC invited public scrutiny over how the Judiciary spends its resources, and cautioned Kenyans against spreading misleading information.

"Kenyans are not only entitled to ask questions, but also have a right to the full facts. The Constitution identifies transparency, accountability, social justice, equity, non-discrimination and public participation as among the national values and principles that bind state organs," said the JSC.

Pressure has been mounting on the Judiciary, House Speaker Kenneth Marende, the Clerk of the National Assembly and other senior officers in Parliament to surrender their government issued guzzlers.

The State introduced the 2000cc ban on government vehicles to cut down on public expenses.

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