The fight against corruption got a big boost from the Judiciary after the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, upheld the ruling that forced Governors facing graft charges to step aside until they are cleared.
Former Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu had moved to the Supreme Court challenging the Court of Appeal ruling which upheld a lower court’s decision to bar him from accessing his office until a graft case against him was determined.
Waititu was also appealing his bail terms, seeking to have the Kshs.15 million cash bail lowered to Kshs.2 million, and the bond of Kshs.30 million reduced to Kshs.5 million.
The appeal was made before Supreme Court Justices Mohammed Ibrahim, Smokin Wanjala, Njoki Ndung’u and Isaac Lenaola on February 4, 2019. The former Governor was seeking orders to set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal delivered by Justices Daniel Musinga, Kairu Gatembu and Agnes Murgor on December 20, 2019.
The case arose following Waititu and his wife Susan Wangari’s arrest when he was charged with corruption related offences. He denied the charges before a chief magistrate’s court on July 29, 2019 and was granted conditional release on a cash bail of Kshs.15 million and or a bond of Kshs. 30 million with surety of a similar amount. The court also barred him from accessing his office until the hearing and determination of his case. It is these conditions he felt were too punitive and he sought reprieve from the Courts. He appealed the decision in High Court, arguing that the bail and bond terms were excessive and amounted to a removal and/or suspension from office.
However, his application was rejected by High Court Judge Ngenye Macharia on August 2019, who held that attaching conditions to the grant of bail was not tantamount to removal of the appellant from office.
The Judge further also upheld the trial Magistrate’s barring of Waititu from accessing his office since the charges against him were grave owing to his position, the weight of the offence and the public interest. In the High Court’s opinion, there was need for stringent bail terms to be attached, finding that the trial Magistrate had not erred by slapping him with those terms.
The judge also noted, that being an exercise of discretion, an appellate court should be slow and cautious to interfere with setting of bond or bail amounts. This decision aggrieved Waititu prompting him to seek reprieve at the Court of Appeal, which, however, did not agree with him.
The court took note of the circumstances under which the alleged offences were committed, and that some of the prosecution witnesses were county staff who are answerable to the appellant, validating the prosecution contention that the appellant would most likely interfere with witnesses or conduct himself in a manner likely to compromise the case if he was not barred from accessing his office during the trial.
His appeal to the Supreme Court that the Court of Appeal had not appreciated legal implications of temporary deprivation of the powers of a governor’s access to office resulted in a bad precedent, which should not be encouraged.
The Supreme Court ruling will go a long way to vindicate the Judiciary against charges of leniency towards high profile corruption offenders, bringing it to the same table with all the Multi-Agency Team members, who are burning the midnight oil to rid the country of graft.