Economy

After six years of wait, fund hands court independence from executive

cj

Chief Justice Martha Koome. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG

After six years of wait, the Judiciary Fund has finally been activated giving courts financial independence to run their affairs.

The Judiciary Fund Act was passed in 2016 but its operationalisation has been delayed over the years as the Judiciary fought with the Executive over the activation of the Fund.

On Friday, the Judiciary announced that the Treasury had loaded Sh9 billion into the Fund for the half-year budget for 2022/23.

“Operationalisation of the Judiciary Fund will aid in the planning and timely execution of operations and projects, and further eliminate previous challenges of delayed disbursements or budget cuts,” the Judiciary said in a statement.

The statement added that although the budgetary allocation sought by the Judiciary was not met, the Fund is a crucial step in securing the financial independence of the courts.

Treasury CS Ukur Yatani had promised in his budget speech in April that courts will start operating the Fund in July after making the necessary procedures including opening an account at the Treasury and regulations to guide its operations.

There was a standoff in 2020 when then Chief Justice David Maraga dismissed calls by Central Bank of Kenya governor Patrick Njoroge to seek Treasury’s approval to open the Fund’s account. Justice Maraga also complained of budget cuts, which he pointed out of having shrunk to 0.69 percent of the national budget.

Dr Njoroge had then directed the Judiciary to engage with the Treasury and the Controller of Budget as required by the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).

Justice Maraga, however, said no cabinet secretary runs the affairs of the Judiciary or Parliament because they are independent institutions.

Article 173 of the constitution established the Fund, which will be administered by the Chief Registrar of the Judiciary, to meet court administrative expenses.

The failure to operationalise the Fund has been compelling the Judiciary to surrender funds collected every year from court fees and fines to the Treasury.

“The Fund was among key priorities of Chief Justice Martha Koome when she assumed office (in May 2021). It has been established and operationalized with the support of the Executive, Legislature, the Central Bank of Kenya and Controller of Budget," the Judiciary added in the statement.

The Constitution says the Fund will be used for administrative expenses of the Judiciary and such other purposes as may be necessary for the discharge of the functions of the Judiciary.

The activation of the Fund was one of the campaign pledges of Deputy President William Ruto-led Kenya Kwanza Alliance should they win the Presidency in the 2022 polls.

Dr Ruto had on numerous occasions pledged to operationalize the Judiciary Fund and ensure independent constitutional offices such as the National Police Service Commission, have their own financial accounting officers to address concerns of manipulation by the State.

Under the framework outlined in Article 173, the Chief Registrar will be required in every financial year to prepare estimates of expenditure for the following year, and submit them to the National Assembly for approval.

“Upon approval by the National Assembly, the expenditure of the Judiciary shall be a charge on the Consolidated Fund and the funds shall be paid directly into the Judiciary Fund.”

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