Barely six months after he was appointed Clerk of the National Assembly, Justin Bundi found himself in the eye of an international storm.
He was on the receiving end of condemnation by media freedom crusaders following a directive on June 5, 2013, that journalists vacate the media centre in Parliament and only cover parliamentary business on invitation.
“We’re not creating residence for journalists in Parliament,” said Bundi, shortly after issuing an ultimatum for them to leave the centre, which was established in 2009 with a Sh2.5 million funding from the US government.
Accompanied by parliamentary orderlies, he ordered for the computers and office furniture to be removed by the end of the day to facilitate space for more committee rooms.
“They cannot be sitting here when we have no space for MPs,” Bundi said. “Let us see how we manage the process as we move on.”
The eviction order was later rescinded, but it left sharp divisions in the National Assembly in the wake of a protracted push-pull between journalists and legislators over the coverage of parliamentary proceedings and decisions.
To journalists and freedom activists, the new Clerk was a threat to a free press. To many parliamentarians he provided the antidote to tame a perceivably “overzealous” media.
However, as months went by, Bundi quickly shed off both tags, emerging as stickler for rules and order.
Rarely seen smiling in public, he wore the demeanour of someone who was aloof and inaccessible. But looks could be deceiving as National Assembly head of Table Office Kiteru Tiampati says.
“He was an easy-going person, very accessible, fatherly and paid attention to detail when issuing instructions,” says Tiampati, who worked as Bundi’s personal assistant from 2013 to 2017.
Parliament staff describe him as a diplomatic and accessible man.
While he emphasised on getting work done properly and in good time, he appreciated that people had private engagements that needed to be attended to too.
Unlike most of his predecessors, Bundi maintained an open-door policy and freely engaged with all cadre of staff of the National Assembly.
It was a common for Bundi to work long hours — coordinating chamber proceedings and preparing advisories on procedures.
"I have known the late Bundi who was my deputy and a friend for the last 25 years and his dedication to duty was just excellent," former National Assembly Clerk Patrick Gichohi told Business Daily.
The Speaker of the National Assembly, Justin Muturi, eulogises Bundi as a distinguished public servant who led an illustrious career.
“He displayed utmost dedication until his retirement as Clerk of the National Assembly in March, 2017. He will be remembered for initiating great reforms during the transition from a unicameral establishment to a bicameral Parliament and also for his outstanding service as the Clerk of the East African Assembly,” he said.
Bundi was the fifth Clerk of the National Assembly since Kenya’s 1963 independence. The first was Mr Leonard J. Ngugi who was succeeded by Mr Japheth K. Masya. Others were Mr Samuel W. Ndindiri, and Mr Gichohi.
Bundi oversaw Parliament’s infrastructure projects including the refurbishment of the Sh700 million Senate chamber, construction of Senate offices, a restaurant and a 250-vehicle capacity underground parking.
Prior to joining Parliament as a Clerk Assistant, he had worked in the office of the President — Provincial Administration — as a District Officer in several districts between 1982 and 1990.
“He joined me in government service and immediately was recognised for his determination. He served in North Eastern, Rift Valley and briefly in Nairobi and impressed especially for his passion against cattle rustling, female genital mutilation, early marriages and substance abuse,” said long time administrator, Joseph Kaguthi.
Kaguthi remembers one unique incident in 1980 when Bundi was honoured by the then President Daniel arap Moi for joining junior officers on patrol missions in Wajir District in the war against banditry.
Eldas MP Adan Keynan remembers when Bundi served as an administrator in his village “where my Dagodia clan honoured him with a camel for exemplary service that emphasised on peaceful coexistence among rival sub-clans.”
In March 2004, he became the Clerk, East African Legislative Assembly Arusha — Tanzania, a position he held up to March 2009 when he returned to Kenya’s Parliament as Deputy Clerk.
He served in the Clerks Chambers and sat in several committees including Board of Management, serving as chair of the Project Implementation Committee, National Assembly Tender Committee, Training Committee and Audit Committee.
He also served as Vice chairman for the Centre for Parliamentary Studies and Training up to October, 2012 when he was appointed Clerk of the National Assembly.
He obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Nairobi in 1981 and a Certificate in Advanced Public Administration from Kenya Institute of Administration, now Kenya School of Government in 1990
At the time of his demise, he was pursuing a master’s degree in Business Administration at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.