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Let public officials step aside if accused



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Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji has raised a vexed but fundamental question in law that requires clarity.

Several high-ranking public officials accused of corruption and other offences and charged in court continue to hold office even when their integrity has been questioned.

In principle, everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Therefore, public officials accused of corruption or other offences are presumed innocent and cannot be unduly prejudiced just because of their offices. But here is the conundrum.

The officials face serious charges but earn half-salary and enjoy all the benefits of their offices.

Yet it is not clear when their cases will be heard and concluded; meaning they may hold on for long.

To be sure, among those facing corruption or other serious charges are governors, judicial officers, principal secretaries and heads of parastatals.

For the DPP, this has serious complications. It undermines the war against corruption and sends wrong signals. It diminishes the pain that ordinarily should come to bear on those seized over graft. Which is the reason the DPP is raising the alarm that the Judiciary may be a stumbling block in the fight against corruption.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has several times challenged the Judiciary to play its part by quickly ruling on corruption cases so that the guilty earn the punishment they deserve.

But this is the stark reality about the rule of law, which we subscribe to. The Judiciary is an independent institution with a remit of administering justice and protecting civil liberties. It does that without coercion or intimidation.

Even so, the concern is that the Judiciary ought to stay alive to the prevailing public mood.

The public is yearning for quick and decisive actions on the corrupt. For long, the citizens have watched helplessly as their taxes and assets are appropriated by a few individuals in positions of authority, who never get punished.

Some of those end up ascending to higher elective or appointive positions, making nonsense of all efforts to create a just and honest society.

This is why there has been massive support for recent efforts to rein in the corrupt and looters of public resources.

There is a need for comprehensive administrative and legal directions on dealing with public officials accused or charged with corruption and other grave offences.

In ideal contexts, such individuals should step aside until their cases are determined. We should enforce that as a basic governance principle.

Efforts to eradicate graft will come to nought if suspected corrupt officials continue to hold public positions.