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Kenya judiciary complain of budget cuts

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Budgets cuts have left judges without adequate fuel to come to work and are an attempt to make the judiciary "a puppet" of other arms of government, Kenya's chief justice said Monday.

The budget cuts have halted the use of mobile courts which helped people in Kenya's remote areas get justice and also stopped a project to reduce the backlog of hundreds of thousands cases, Chief Justice David Maraga, who is the president of the Supreme Court, said. He said the judiciary can no longer afford internet Wi-Fi.

"The judiciary has been treated contemptuously and continues to be treated contemptuously," said Maraga, speaking at the entrance to the Supreme Court. His dramatic statement was covered live by Kenyan television and radio stations.

"We have a huge backlog of cases which continue to pile up because of lack of funds to even move judges around," Maraga said. "Some judges are not able to get fuel for their cars and we are having to ask them to get money from their pockets in hopes that we can refund them some day."

The budget cuts come after President Uhuru Kenyatta called the judiciary a bunch of crooks and promised to "fix" them after the Supreme Court nullified his election in 2017, citing unconstitutional illegalities and irregularities. Kenyatta later won a rerun of the elections after the opposition boycotted saying the composition of the electoral commission, which they accused of rigging, had not changed.

The Supreme Court did not hear a suit filed by civil society — to block the repeat election — due to a lack of quorum, after judges failed to turn up, allegedly because of fear. The previous day the police driver of the Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu was shot and seriously wounded. Maraga was only member of the five-judge bench to turn up.

On Monday Maraga said the Court of Appeal is not able to operate due to lack of funds in Nyeri, Nakuru and Mombasa counties. He blamed the executive for failing to treat him with dignity, citing state functions where he is sometime not given VIP treatment.

"Let the office of the chief justice be treated with dignity," he said. He said letters are addressed to him by clerks from government ministries instead of the most senior officers. "I shred most of those letters," he said.

Kenyatta last month refused to appoint 41 judges picked by the judicial service commission. Several experts have opined in local media that this hampered the judiciary from clearing the backlog of cases.

"The judiciary is not interested and does not interfere with the affairs of other arms of government. Why are they interested and interfering with our affairs?" he asked. "You want me to tell you why? They want to control the judiciary ... They want to make the judiciary, a puppet." Maraga said.

He said Kenyatta government was promoting impunity by not paying hundreds of millions in damages awarded to plaintiffs.

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