INDEPENDENT OFFICES

Oversight agencies still have a lot to do

Have had successes and failings in fulfilling their respective mandates.

In Summary
  • To date, the CAJ has received more than 500,000 public complaints against government agencies, with a resolution rate of about 83%.
  • There is need to interrogate how Parliament has used these reports to deepen accountability and improve performance of these oversight agencies.

A decade of implementing the Constitution of Kenya 2010 has lapsed and it is the right time for us to cast an eye on how constitutional commissions and independent offices have fared in delivering value to the Kenyan people.

The establishment of these bodies was motivated by our unpleasant past where accessing public services and enjoyment of basic rights had been curtailed by a rigid governance system that suffocated ordinary citizens and elevated those in privileged leadership positions.

Article 249 of the Constitution mandates the oversight bodies to protect the sovereignty of the people, secure the observance by all state organs of democratic values and principles; and to promote constitutionalism. The agencies are obligated to enhance inclusivity in governance, improve transparency and increase accountability of state organs.

The Commission on Administrative Justice (Office of the Ombudsman), which is mandated to enforce administrative justice in the public sector, and oversee and enforce the implementation of the Access to Information Act, 2016, has largely succeeded in resolving some of the most disheartening and long-running cases of administrative injustice in public service.

To date, the commission has received more than 500,000 public complaints against government agencies, with a resolution rate of about 83 per cent.

Let me illustrate the enormity of the daily challenges ordinary Kenyans face in standing up to abuse of power, and accessing public services. The commission recently exercised its powers in a case where a county governor had used his privileged position to grab two prime plots from a widow. Upon investigation and report being shared with relevant agencies, the county chief’s fate was sealed at the Senate on the basis of our recommendations and other issues.

Similarly, after intervention by the commission, a chief in Laikipia county was dismissed from service after he was accused and found culpable of assaulting a woman who later lost her three-month pregnancy.

Many retirees die still waiting for their pension dues, with claims of lost files being a perfect excuse to extract bribes from desperate senior citizens who diligently served their nation. In one case in 2019, the commission intervened to end a retired teacher’s painful 14-year wait for his pension.

And 40 years’ tribulations of a resident of Kiambogo Settlement Scheme in Nakuru county ended in November 2019 after the commission took up the issue of a pending allotment letter. The Lands department, which had been a source of pain for the citizen, finally yielded and issued the land ownership document four decades late.

Additionally, the agony that many pensioners are subjected to when they should be enjoying their sunset days is a stain on the Pensions department, which is unsurprisingly one of the public institutions most complained against to the Ombudsman.

Many retirees die still waiting for their pension dues, with claims of lost files being a perfect excuse to extract bribes from desperate senior citizens who diligently served their nation. In one case in 2019, the commission intervened to end a retired teacher’s painful 14-year wait for his pension.

And so, after about 10 years in existence, it is reasonable to conclude that the oversight agencies have had mixed success and failings in fulfilling their respective mandates.

Whereas the commissions and offices are supposed to be independent and oversight other government departments, they are required to be accountable to the people through their elected representatives in Parliament.

In the spirit of the constitutional dictate of checks and balances, Parliament plays three critical functions related to the oversight bodies: Enacting enabling legislation, scrutinising and approving budgets, and oversighting their performance.

At this point in time, it is right to interrogate how effective the legislators have been in fulfilling their oversight obligations.

Commissions and independent offices are obligated to submit half-year and annual statutory reports to Parliament. The reports are to be scrutinised by relevant departmental committees.

There is need to interrogate how Parliament has used these reports to deepen accountability and improve performance of these oversight agencies.