AG Kihara Kariuki/ Facebook
NAIROBI, Kenya Feb 21- The value of legal suits facing the Kenyan government has risen to Sh1.2 trillion, equivalent to 12 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The Parliamentary Departmental Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs says this stands against pending awards against the State of Sh81 billion.
Claims from ongoing litigation in local and international courts have increased 48.2 percent from Sh809 billion potential liability exposure at the end of May 2019.
“The committee observed that there are suits against the government with financial risks to the tune of Sh1.2 trillion,” the Committee said.
The monies owed are in form of compensation for contract breaches, unlawful dismissals, human rights violations and other court disputes, highlighting the heavy price of unlawful decisions by government officials.
“These range from awards to victims of torture as well as business litigations against the State,” the Committee said.
For instance, back in 2020, Kenneth Matiba was awarded Sh978 million by the High Court as compensation for torture during the Moi era and the amount at the moment exceeds Sh1.5 billion, including interest.
This was 10 years after Kenya’s High Court ruled that Kenyan authorities had violated the fundamental rights of 21 former political prisoners subjected to torture, awarding them Sh40 million in compensation.
In 2017, seven victims of police brutality were awarded Sh28 million for the suffering they underwent two decades ago.
“There have been positive steps taken in addressing the pending court awards through an inter-ministerial committee chaired by the Solicitor-General to address this perennial challenge and the recommendations are awaiting Cabinet consideration,” the Committee added.
Legal awards against the State highlight the heavy price taxpayers pay for unlawful decisions by officials.
The committee said that the office of the Attorney General and department of justice is “significantly underfunded”, weakening the ability of the State to assemble a strong legal team to successfully handle the lawsuits.
The government has also been sued by former public servants for wrongful dismissal, resulting in payments of millions of shillings. Other suits are the product of fallouts over business deals.
Attorney-General Paul Kihara has continuously asked ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to carefully negotiate and vet contracts before signing them to minimise lawsuits.
“To reduce exposure of MDAs 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,” Kihara said.
He called for penalties against top government officials found to have made unlawful decisions that led to the huge payouts. Some of the awards against the State have stemmed from unlawful arrests and reckless shootings by the police.
The government is also spending huge sums of money contracting foreign lawyers to represent the country in international courts.