Chief Justice Martha Koome has been handed yet another test in the form of a protest letter over her membership in a committee connected with the elections.
The protest is from Deputy President William Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance party and was issued after Justice Koome was elected to head the technical committee on election preparedness.
“Whereas we are cognisant that the technical working committee draws its membership from various government agencies and it is indeed a multi-sectoral forum, we opine that your involvement in the consultative meetings of the technical working committee is a clear violation of the Constitution, the Judicial Service Act, 2011, the Leadership and Integrity Act, 2012, the Public Officer Ethics Act, 2003 and the principles and the code of conduct for judicial officers,” said Veronica Maina, UDA’s secretary-general.
The Chief Justice appears to have taken a pragmatic approach to her role at the head of one of the arms of government, but that is bound to be tested by the actions of the Executive as well as by the judges she heads.
Unlike other actors in the Executive and the Legislature, the Chief Justice doesn’t have control of the entity she leads as the judges and magistrates make their decisions independently.
The complaint by UDA came after it wrote to the electoral commission to protest the involvement of several Cabinet Secretaries in politics. That proved ineffective, as neither did the electoral commission take action nor did the Cabinet Secretaries back down, with Interior boss Fred Matiang’i instead oozing defiance. Unlike the politicians, Justice Koome is likely to step away from the committee.
As the President of the Supreme Court, Justice Koome would head the bench presiding over a petition against the presidential election.
The protest will serve as a reminder of the sensitivities around an election and the need to remain, and appear to remain, neutral. She would perhaps want to avoid placing the Judiciary in the same circumstances it was in 2007, when Raila Odinga and his ODM troops declared they would not be seeking justice in the courts as they did not trust them.
UDA’s protest echoes the complaints by Mr Odinga ahead of the last General Election, which culminated in his boycott of the repeat presidential election. The difference is that UDA’s candidate, William Ruto, is leading in opinion polls and continues his cross-country tours to popularise his bid.
The complaints could also serve as a warning shot to civil servants across the board, with the Deputy President’s troops well aware that the boast by Mr Odinga’s supporters that they have the support of the System could mean that the rank and file of the Executive could be mobilised for him.