Uhuru plots to block lawyer MPs from appearing in courts as counsels
NAIROBI, Kenya - In a move aimed at taking corruption head-on, President Uhuru Kenyatta has now shifted his guns against MPs practicing law.
Dozens of parliamentarians (Senators and MPs) in Kenya are lawyers by profession and often appear in court as part of the defense team in graft related cases.
Terming it as "conflict" of interest, Uhuru asked Attorney General Kihara Kariuki to initiate a Conflict of Interest bill whose aim is to block such representation.
"One cannot serve as a legislator at the national or county level while at the same time practicing law, whether or not for gain," Uhuru said.
“The same way, judges, and magistrates cease completely any legal practice while in office, doctors, engineers, accountants and other professionals who take up State or public office," he added.
The president's statement directly targeted two senators and an MP who appeared in court for embattled Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko.
Senators Kipchumba Murkomen, who is also Senate Majority Leader, Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jr, and MP Dan Maanzo defended Sonko in a $3 million alleged scandal.
With the Constitution recognizing legislators as state officers, Uhuru who was addressing a gathering on Thursday during Jamhuri Day said the law must be amended.
“The position is simple; you either serve the public in the role you signed up for or you serve the republic as a private practitioner. It is a profound conflict of interest to do both,” he said.
However, the statement has caused mixed reactions from among lawyers, with some supporting the president's measure.
"When you see a Senator/MP in court representing a client it isn't about making some money on the side...it's always about playing cheap politics in court," Ahmednasir Abdullahi tweeted.
"President Kenyatta has been misled by his legal advisers on who is a state officer and whether an Advocate legislator is precluded from practicing law," Nelson Havi protested.
Ironically, President Uhuru was sometimes back represented in court by one of Kenya's most accomplished lawyer James Orengo, who serves as Siaya senator.
Uhuru has earmarked the fight against corruption as one of his probable legacies, with the country said to be losing over $8 billion annually to graft related scandals.
The US is keen to support the graft war. Recently, former Attorney General Amos Wako was designated by Washington DC over alleged corruption.
Cases of lawyer MPs defending people charged with graft are rampant. Recently, a group of lawyers led by Orengo and Senator Okong'o Mogeni appeared for embattled Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu in court.