Why did we hate the Judiciary so much we insisted on its complete shake up even before we gave ourselves a new constitution? It is not just because the Judiciary had become a presidential rubberstamp, sending us to gaol or to the gallows on "flimsy" evidence, "trumped up" charges or good old-fashioned "witch-hunting." It is also because the Judiciary was not just aloof from and hostile to the public, it lived like its members were princes of old. Judges and magistrates, somehow, ended up on some of the choicest bits of Nairobi real estate for, essentially, being told what to do by the President.
The fiasco of the first attempt at reining in the Judiciary revealed the extent of the rot. Sure, the radical surgery became a witch-hunt too, but not before Kenyans were astounded and scandalised by tales of moral turpitude that made shady politicians look like choir-boys. Somehow, the reform agenda went back on track and we ended up, under a new Constitution, with a revamped Judicial Service Commission, a new Supreme Court and a Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board. With the appointment of Willy Mutunga and the rest of the members of the Supreme Court, the appointment of the Judicial Service Commission with increased numbers of outsiders, and the appointment of a new Chief Registrar of the Judiciary, Kenyans thought the Judiciary had turned the corner.
Until the Judiciary started spending money. Of course the country faces a sharp shortage of judges, magistrates, court buildings and facilities. But when the Judicial Service Commission prioritised a mansion and limousine for the Chief Justice, limousines for the Judges of the superior courts, and a plane, it was clear that things were amiss. And then they started "leasing" buildings for multi-million shilling multi-year contracts from building owners whose antecedents not only raised eye-brows, they brought into question the rationale of allowing the Judiciary a free hand to spend like drunken sailors.
All these and more are being reveled because, and this blogger could be wrong, the key players have discovered that, as with every key institution in Kenya, power does not derive from the legitimacy one obtains from the consent of the people but from the authority to incur expenses on behalf of the institution with as little oversight as one can get away with. Regardless of what the law says, power belongs to the one who controls the purse. And the Judiciary has demonstrated that when it comes to the interpretation of statute when it comes to the question of its management of public funds, not even the threat of parliamentary sanction will compel them to reverse course. Hence the spectacular contest between the Chief Justice and the judicial Service Commission on one side, and the Chief Registrar of the Judiciary in the other. Her sacking will go down in public service history as one of the most ineptly handled knee-capping in the history of knee-capping. Why it took Willy Mutunga and the Judicial Service Commission two months to fire Gladys Boss Shollei is a testament to the determination of Ms Shollei to hang on to her job, come hell or high water.
But in their narrowly-focused pursuit of their objectives, rightly or wrongly, the Judiciary will come off the worse. No number of open days and PR communications will unsully its image. Kenyans may not be the most sophisticated intellectuals, but they are pretty savvy when it comes to knowing right from wrong, good from bad. And they know, especially when they suffer heart-rending experiences at the hands of judicial officers, lawyers and other public servants, that regardless of the still-glowing halo atop the Chief justice the Judiciary is has become adept at wearing sheeps' clothing to cloak its wolfish intentions.