Kenyatta Puts Public Officers on Notice Over Conflict of Interest

13 December 2019

State officers with a penchant for having one leg in public service and another in private practice will now have a choice to make between the two or risk being sacked over conflict of interest.

While addressing the country during the 55th Jamhuri Day celebrations on Thursday in Nairobi, President Uhuru Kenyatta said it is against the leadership and integrity for state and public officers to dabble in private practice whether gainful or not at the time their services is required for the nation.

BBI PROPOSAL

Consequently, the President directed Attorney-General Kihara Kariuki to fast-track the submission to Cabinet for approval and transmittal to Parliament for consideration the Conflict of Interest Bill, which has been subject to stakeholders' consultation.

And this could be the first proposal from the Building Bridges report that the President has sought to implement.

Under the chapter on corruption, the report proposes to address conflict of interest by reducing public officer involvement in business with the government.

Senior public officers who represent the government on the boards of private companies should clearly indicate any personal conflicts of interests in matters under deliberation.

"The position is simple; you either serve the public in the role you signed up for or you serve the republic as a private practitioner. It is a profound conflict of interest to do both," President Kenyatta said.

SERVE THE PEOPLE

The President said State and public officers are not above the law and that "our constitutional order is a jealous one", which demands government officers serve no other master but the public.

Deputy President William Ruto, ODM leader Raila Odinga, National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi and his Senate colleague Ken Lusaka, Kalonzo Musyoka of Wiper, ANC's Musalia Mudavadi and leader of majority in the National Assembly Aden Duale are among dignitaries who attended the celebrations as did former first lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta.

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley was the country's special guest at the celebrations.

In a 52-minute speech delivered at the Nyayo National stadium, President Kenyatta said judges and magistrates must cease completely any legal practice while in office.

HEALTHCARE

He said doctors, engineers, accountants and other professionals who take up state or public office, should give up private practice and devote their full time and energy to public duties.

This, according to the President, is important to rid any perception that they are using state or public office as a platform to advance other interests.

The President's pronouncement is a big blow to lawyers who are actively engaged in private practice yet they are elected people's representatives in Parliament and county assemblies.

OVERSIGHT ROLE

It also targets individuals who are gazetted as teachers yet they serve as MPs or members of the county assemblies (MCAs).

The President's message comes as two senators, Mutula Kilonzo Junior (Makueni) and Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo Marakwet), and Makueni MP Dan Maanzo appeared for Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko, who was arraigned on Monday over misuse of public funds.

Curiously, the same senators are charged with the responsibility of supervising the expenditure of public resources at the counties, prompting the President to pose whether it is fair and right for legislators who have control over funds and exercise oversight over the Judiciary to appear in courts as counsels.

"Is it fair on the judicial officer hearing the case or the other parties that one party in the case is represented by persons who can literally change the law applicable to the dispute, control the career progression of the judge or magistrate, or are able to speak with the voice of an entire arm of government?" he posed.

SOSSION ISSUE

But even as the senators appeared for the embattled governor, the President reminded them that no magistrate, judge, or any other state or public officer who has abused public trust should be allowed to hide behind the veil of autonomy and independence.

In 2017, Siaya Senator James Orengo led a team of lawyers serving as MPs -- Tom Kajwang' (Ruaraka) and Peter Kaluma (Homabay Town), among others -- in the petition challenging the election of President Kenyatta at the Supreme Court.

Interestingly, in 2013, then-Makueni senator, as Senior Counsel, the late Mutula Kilonzo, a renowned stickler for the rule of law and due process, bolted out of a team of lawyers representing Mr Raila Odinga in the petition he filed against President Kenyatta because of the risk of conflict of interest.

Mr Kilonzo Senior, however, played behind the scenes as a consultant during the case. The current Makueni senator is the son of the late politician.

INTEGRITY

Things are also not looking up for MPs Omboko Milemba (Emuhaya) and Wilson Sossion (nominated).

Despite being teachers with leadership positions their unions -- Kenya Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) and Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) respectively -- they are also MPs.

The President's move, therefore, is a win for the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) boss Nancy Macharia, who has had her previous decision to deregister Mr Sossion as a teacher swiftly overturned by the courts.

Speaker Justin Muturi hailed the President's remarks, saying the issue of conflict of interest is against the leadership and integrity act under Chapter Six of the Constitution.

"We will deal with the bill when the time comes. But it is wrong to engage in private work when knowing that you are a government officer," Mr Muturi said.

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