Economy

Legal awards against State top Sh101 billion

AG

Attorney General Kihara Kariuki. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Kenya is facing a further Sh769.9 billion claims from ongoing litigation in local and international courts even as 700 lawyers from the State Law Office battle to clear a huge backlog of such cases. 
  • Attorney-General Paul Kihara said that over the last three years alone the government has paid out Sh1.8 billion as legal fees and compensation to victims of rights violation by State officials and warned of a crackdown on rogue officers.
  • The AG said some of the claims stemmed from unlawful arrests and reckless shootings by the police.

Legal awards against the State for contract breaches, unlawful dismissals, lawyers’ fees, human right violations and other court disputes hit Sh101.2 billion by the end of last year, highlighting the heavy price taxpayers have to pay for unlawful decisions by officials.

Kenya is facing a further Sh769.9 billion claims from ongoing litigation in local and international courts even as 700 lawyers from the State Law Office battle to clear a huge backlog of such cases. 

Attorney-General Paul Kihara said that over the last three years alone the government has paid out Sh1.8 billion as legal fees and compensation to victims of rights violation by State officials and warned of a crackdown on rogue officers.

“The tendency with government officials to have a laiser faire attitude in making unlawful decisions should be strongly discouraged and such officers penalised accordingly. This reduces the mentality amongst government officials that an offence so committed it is the government, which is the defendant and not the officer as a person,” the AG said in a newsletter by the State Law Office, adding that some of the awards were due to absentee State witnesses.

The AG said some of the claims stemmed from unlawful arrests and reckless shootings by the police.

Last year, the Treasury released Sh888 million to compensate survivors of State torture and cruelty. The funds were released between June and December 2019 to cover for 52 cases of survivors who had successfully sued for compensation over inhumane treatment decades back.

But as the victims got the monies, taxpayers bore the brunt of paying for the sins of trigger-happy police officers and State agencies.

More than 400 Kenyans, including lawyers, politicians, journalists, former university lecturers, former student leaders, police officers and military officers, have gone to court and successfully argued that they were tortured by State officials during the Moi era.

Among prominent those waiting for compensation from the government is the family of Kenya’s first African mayor and second liberation hero Charles Wanyoike Rubia, who died last year.

He was awarded Sh26 million last year for being arrested twice and illegally confined during the Moi era.

The family of former Cabinet minister Kenneth Matiba is also seeking more than Sh1.5 billion that the multi-party hero was awarded for torture during the same period. The award was initially Sh978 million but interest has been accruing.

In March last year, 23 victims of torture, among them former Subukia MP Koigi wa Wamwere, wrote to the Treasury over their delayed compensation.

Through their lawyer Gitau Mwara, the victims demanded more than Sh154 million, saying they desperately needed the money to pay medical bills and other obligations.

A number of them obtained judgments against the government in 2012 and had waited for years without compensation.

Mr Wamwere was demanding a total of Sh23.6 million, Irene Wangari and six others Sh26.6 million, Rogers Godfrey Wafula and others Sh30 million, and Ruth Wangari Thungu Sh3 million.

The government has also been sued by former public servants for wrongful dismissal resulting in payments of millions of shillings in costs.

The AG said breaches of contracts by public officers was also costing the taxpayer huge amounts of money.

The government contracts thousands of businesses and individuals to carry out public projects – ranging from road building to serving meals at incident command centres.

On many occasions, it breaches its contracts by not paying for goods and services.

“To reduce exposure of MDAs [ministries, departments and agencies] to financial risk in contracts, all contracts should be negotiated and vetted to reduce instances that result in breach of contracts on the side of government. MDAs should further be advised not to engage themselves in transactions or acts that plunge the government into civil litigations,” AG Kihara said.

The government is also spending huge sums of money contracting foreign lawyers to represent the country in international courts.

For example, reports by the AG’s office showed that in the 2017/18 and 2018/19 fiscal year Kenya spent Sh9.22 million and Sh210.2 million respectively on legal fees in international cases.

State vehicles involved in road accidents where victims have been maimed or killed and property destroyed have also resulted in legal claims.