Columnists

Give courts money to fight poverty

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The Supreme Court building. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • A lot of the times politicians care more about decisions that will give them votes and not necessarily those that lead to sustainable development.
  • It is clear that the Judiciary has a role to play in national development and poverty alleviation.
  • For their part, judicial officers need to appreciate their role in national development too.

When one looks at the annual budgetary allocations to the three arms of government, the Judiciary in Kenya always gets the lowest share. I got involved in discussions this past week on why this is so.

It emerged that this pattern is replicated across the continent. I explored the question of whether it has everything to do with what is seen as the role of the Judiciary in national development.

Governments normally focus on votes and what their actions mean for the electorate. This should in theory be fine since a government exists to address the needs of the citizenry. The critical question though is what those needs are seen to be.

A lot of the times politicians care more about decisions that will give them votes and not necessarily those that lead to sustainable development. In this context, a politician may argue that the Judiciary does not directly contribute to development.

This view sees development through the narrow prism of brick-and-mortar activities. However, the reality is the opposite. In 2015 when the international community adopted the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, one that agreed on the 17 SDGs, with the overall focus of eradicating poverty in the world, the place of the Judiciary was well articulated.

Although not expressly stated, Goal 19 recognises the role of institutions and provision of access to justice as being fundamental to sustainable development. Discussions across the world have anchored the role of the Judiciary around this goal.

It is therefore clear that the Judiciary has a role to play in national development and poverty alleviation. Development is not just the construction of infrastructure and provision of basic services, important as these are. It is also ensuring that the operating environment is conducive for that development to occur.

When disputes arise involving those involved in the provision of basic services, it is to the Judiciary that attention turns.

Secondly, in under a year, the country is going to an election. From past experience, how the disputes that arise from the election process, directly impact the development trajectory the country takes.

When businesses are apprehensive that an election will not be peaceful, they are reluctant to take investment decisions until that electioneering process is concluded.

In Kenya where campaigns happen almost the entire electoral cycle, this fear leads to very limited economic growth. In this instance, the contribution of the Judiciary to resolving electoral disputes ensures that confidence in the country is enhanced and consequently development can be deepened. It is, therefore, critical that the current budgetary approach across the continent where the Judiciary receives the least allocations, of the three arms of Government, be relooked.

For their part, judicial officers need to appreciate their role in national development too. Access to justice contributes to poverty alleviation. This is a two-way analysis, where the politicians have to recognise the role of law and dispute resolution, while those charged with resolving disputes too take into account the link between justice and development.

One area that may provide an avenue for this dual linkage to be demonstrated is the implementation of socio-economic rights captured under Article 43 of the Constitution. Too many times the Executive will argue that it does not have sufficient resources to implement the rights.

However, as the Supreme Court stated recently in a judgment, some effort must be made by the government even in a resource-constrained environment to show that they are committed to the realisation of those rights.

The Judiciary has to hold the government accountable to the constitutional obligations. In doing so, it is important that there is a recognition that policymaking is the arena of the Executive. Moderation is thus necessary to ensure that decisions made do not encroach on the arena of policymaking.