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Cj interviews: Mbote taken to task over her BBI connection

By Nancy Gitonga
Wednesday, April 14th, 2021
Prof Kameri- Mbote, the second interviwee on the position of Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court when she appeared before the Judicial Service Commission. Photo/PD/John Ochieng
In summary
    • When asked how she would deal with the corruption perception in the Judiciary, Prof Mbote said she would make good use of the office of the Ombudsman to tackle the issue.
    • The lawyer also  told the JSC that having built different institutions and led in academia she would also enrich the bench with her intellectual contributions.

Law scholar Patricia Kameri Mbote was yesterday put to task to explain whether she plagiarised another professor’s work and portrayed it as her own as dean School of Law at the University of Nairobi.

Prof Mbote, appearing for an interview before the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) for the position of Chief Justice, was tasked by the panel, led by Prof Olive Mugenda, who demanded to know whether the allegation was true. 

Mbote is accused of using the work of Prof Migai Aketch, a public law scholar and an academic activist, as concept notes to source for funding from the Ford Foundation without acknowledging his contribution. 

But in her defence, Mbote said though Aketch developed the concept, it was noted as a product of the university and as such she was noted as the person responsible for it even though she had the intention of having his name acknowledged in a book that was to come out of the concept.

“It is the Judiciary that called me to work on a concept to discuss that very difficult case on Raila Odinga.

I called a number of people and Prof Aketch put together the concept. In universities, when you develop a concept it is submitted as a concept of UoN. I did involve Prof  Aketch,” she argued.

Underhand activities

Mbote was also confronted by accusations of engaging in underhand activities, which disadvantaged a candidate in relation to the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) male member to the JSC that she flatly denied having any interest in.

“I had no dog in that fight. I had no interest in any candidate,” she said. She further denied failing to attend critical meetings as a member of LSK senior council members.

On the issue of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) document, Mbote told the commission that she supports the office of the Ombudsman as proposed as it will make the Judiciary more accountable and answerable to the mwananchi.

She explained that she had engaged with BBI in two different capacities including at the village level where she was called up by locals to look at the document and give interpretations, which she obliged as well as currently where she is engaged by Parliament to advise it on amendments proposed in the document.

“I was not involved in drafting the BBI at all. The reason I got in it was actually very unique.

Someone approached me requesting for a scholar to read the BBI, and I agreed to do it.

I have engaged in BBI in looking at how it affects certain constitutional provisions as a scholar,” she said.

“The provision for the office of Ombudsman in the BBI document, which has received huge resistance from the Judiciary, is not a big deal because it makes the institution more answerable,” she said.

However, when pushed by commissioner David Majanja to explain whether she was suggesting that the JSC had failed in communicating what the Judiciary had achieved or done to warrant creation of the office of Ombudsman, Mbote retreated in her comment, saying she stands guided.

“I stand guided if judges think differently about the issue; how I had thought about it, it’s not such a big deal,” she said.  

On the issue of underfunding of JSC, she told the panel that if she succeeds in becoming the next Chief Justice she would source funds from her international networks.

“As the CJ I will tackle the issue of the JSC being underfunded in order to hinder the huge need of training judicial staff and request my colleagues to teach the judges and magistrates without having to ask for pay,” said Mbote.

The 58-year-old scholar informed the panel that she believes the current budget set for JSC, which is Sh500 million, is not sufficient.   

On the failure by President Uhuru Kenyatta to appoint the 41 judges who had been selected by JSC, Mbote suggested talks with the Executive to resolve the issue.

“I would approach the President to get this matter unstuck because it is not a good thing. In getting it unstuck, he will listen to these concerns,” Mbote said.

On the issue of constant disobedience of court orders by other levels of government, Mbote said even though she will not keep a black book of those disobeying court orders she will engage in talks with different arms of government over the issue with the aim of promoting the rule of law.

She expressed discontent with failure by the President to obey court orders, saying she would seek an audience with the Head of State to discuss the issue.

Mbote, who is among 10 candidates shortlisted for the CJ position, further said that to tackle the problem of backlog of cases that has plagued the Judiciary for a long time she would take advantage of technology.

The professor is said to be a classmate of Mwilu and also a former teacher to High Court judge David Majanja; who are both commissioners at the panel.  

The interview continues today with Justice Martha Koome appearing before the panel.

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