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Crackdown on State critics raises eyebrows

The recent clampdown on two civil society organisations by the NGOs Coordination Board and a veiled threat at two heads of independent institutions by outgoing National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale has cast the spotlight on the government over what appears to be a major onslaught on its critics.

Tell-tale signs that the government appeared hell-bent on cracking down on its perceived opponents emerged last week when Mr Duale told NTV that the National Assembly will continue with petitions for the removal of National Land Commission (NLC) chairman Mohamed Swazuri and Auditor-General Edward Ouko  from office.

The Eleventh Parliament, in its final days, changed its rules to allow subsequent Houses to continue with petitions against constitutional office holders.

This ostensibly sets the stage for the new Parliament to follow up on the anti-Ouko and anti-Swazuri petitions when it is sworn in.

CRITICISM

In the last fortnight, the NGOs Board has come under criticism  for revoking the registration of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHCR) and Africa Centre for Open Governance, two organisations that have been a thorn in the flesh of the Jubilee Government since it came to power in 2013.

Acting Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i has since intervened and lifted the suspensions following uproar from both national and international actors in the civil society sector.

The State, through its various institutions, has often gone about its work in what appears to be an implementation of the law but is often nothing more than harassment.

This came out after one of the KHRC officials and an avowed critic of the government, Maina Kiai, was briefly held at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport earlier in the week before he departed, heading overseas.

HARASSMENT

The harassment has not been limited to civil society organisations and independent office holders only.

Politicians and journalists, too, have borne the brunt of this harassment.

In June, Sunday Nation journalist Walter Menya was arrested as he went about his business and, after numerous court appearances, no charges were preferred against him.

Mr Menya is yet to get his mobile phone and laptop back after they were taken from him by the State.

Former Laikipia North MP Mathew Lempurkel is also another victim of excesses of the State.

NO CHARGES

He has been arrested several times, sometimes held incommunicado for hours and no charges preferred against him.

Shortly before the elections two men on an unknown mission, who later identified themselves as police officers, were cornered at the National Super Alliance offices.

On Friday last week, blogger Robert Alai, a perennial government critic, was arrested for the umpteenth time for unknown charges and held at the Kamukunji Police Station in Nairobi.

He was released after spending the night in the cells without any charges being preferred against him.

Suna East MP-elect Junet Mohamed said the excesses of the police are reminiscent of the Kanu days when those who did not toe the government line were arrested and locked up on trumped- up charges.

IMPLEMENTING LAW

“The police reforms stagnated despite there being a new constitution. It seems we only changed the name of top cops but the same old bad habits remained,” said Mr Mohamed.

NGOs Coordinating Board executive director Fazul Mohamed, however, maintains that he is simply implementing the law.

“We have the most robust NGO laws on the continent. The fact that Oxfam chose Kenya as its world headquarters for its operations sheds light on how the country is viewed. Oxfam operates in 97 countries and has a budget of Sh500 billion. The government cannot be said to be singling out its critics yet we have over 20,000 NGOs and only two are in trouble with the law. That’s not even one per cent,” said Mr Fazul.

The two NGOs have since moved to court and obtained orders lifting the suspensions and effectively putting a meeting with the government committee on the issues raised by Mr Mohamed in jeopardy.

KHRC executive director George Kegoro was non-committal whether the meeting will take place, saying they will await instructions from their lawyers.

CONTROL

In the National Assembly, newly- elected MPs will have their work cut out since, according to Mr Duale, the petitions against the two constitutional office holders will go to full conclusion.

Jubilee is expected to control not only the plenary debate but also the committees expected to determine the fate of the two.

“We have very important pieces of legislation that were pending before the House, including the removal of independent office holders — Mr Ouko and Dr Swazuri,” said Mr Duale.

The case against Dr Swazuri revolves around a petition by one time Nation Media Group journalist Mugo Njeru.

Mr Njeru says he gave Dr Swazuri Sh1 million to help facilitate fast-tracking of compensation for land that was to be acquired for the construction of the standard gauge railway.

PETITION

The Sunday Nation learned that Parliament swung into action even before the NLC could deliberate on the compensation dispute.

MPs will also be hearing a petition seeking to remove Mr Ouko from office.

In his petition, Nairobi lawyer Emmanuel Mwagonah accused Mr Ouko of wasting public funds by accumulating a Sh1 million phone bill on his iPad while he was abroad.

He claimed Mr Ouko frequently travelled out of the country for private reasons and has been managing the office remotely, resulting in high telephone and Internet costs.

He further claimed that Mr Ouko had been allocated five cars, some of which are used by his wife and daughter.

POLITICAL POWER

The auditor is also accused of failing to submit reports to the President and Parliament at the end of financial years, giving a firm that was supposed to be auditing his office other work, and buying an office at a cost of Sh10 million in Mombasa, which was never used.

The two issues are already in court and the two have obtained court orders to stop the National Assembly from prosecuting the matters until their cases are determined.

Dr Joshua Kivuva, a political analyst who teaches at the University of Nairobi, said the actions of Jubilee should be viewed in the context of political power.

He said if Jubilee feels some individuals have to go for it to achieve its promises, all it has to ensure is that these actions are carried out within the law.

The Suna East MP disagrees, saying Jubilee is just mesmerised with the high number of MPs it got in the recently concluded polls .

“They may think they are downhill but soon they will realise there is a mountain to climb,” he said.

 

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