By Sunday Memba
For the advancement of the dictates of our nationalistic covenant, the JSC, under the Chief Justice, must act in a manner that actually proves their ethical mettle
I am a man who reads. And a man who reads needs to keep reading. As the world literati gear up to celebrate Chinua Achebe, I made a solid decision to reread all his works. It deemed proper for me to start with his masterpiece, Things Fall Apart. I am tempted to paraphrase Unoka – Okonkwo’s impecunious and improvident father – and yet I purpose to discuss him some other day on account of time and space. Unoka, you will recall, tells Okoye that he would pay him his debt later because he had bigger debts to pay first. Unoka justified this by quoting an Ibo proverb, “…the sun will shine on those who stand before it shines on those who kneel under them.”
Reader, what shall individuals in the hire and fire portfolios in the Judiciary give us as an answer if we inquire about the Small Claims courts? Permit me to answer this query in Unoka’s terms: “Currently we are focused on building a court that can handle matters within the ICC’s jurisdiction. When we are done with this urgency, then we shall build you those Small Claims courts”.
Be that as it may, that is not my epicentre of my intentions today. Allow me to highlight the great expectations and aftermath of this legislation if the rubber meets the road. Wanjiku shall be proud of nominated senator Johnston Sakaja who spearheaded the coming to fruition of this Act. Since this Act does involve the hoi polloi, I refrain from extreme legal jargon and proceed with the commonplace parlance.
Each sub county may soon have a small court to solve petty cases that arise within the parties’ jurisdiction. The act strictly limits these small cases to civil claims and, like plague, avoids criminal matters. Moreover, civil claims are limited to matters pertaining to small claims as defined in the civil procedure code. Definitely, this will help citizens from every nook and cranny of this republic to fulfil their quest for justice. The act, too, has simplified procedures which may be of great aid to individual who fear and dread to stand in ceremony.
I do not double up as a doom merchant, but, it occurs to me to warn about factors that may derail the achievement of the spirit and letter of the Small Claims Court Act. Most important is to remind ourselves that the horse hair holding the sword of Damocles in our judicial structures, perhaps is getting looser and weaker. The corruption bug that slowly eats like a moth our institutional structures still looms wide and large. Invariably, this bug seems to have gained its place in our systems of governance and it’s always an exercise in futility to reject it. But the Englishman insists that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Until this menace is solved, the legislation shall remain a pipe dream and never a panacea for the ‘common mwananchi’.
As we savour and hope for the prospects of these small courts, members of the Judicial Service Commission should clean the mess in the higher courts. My fellow Kenyans from Luo-Nyanza counties like Siaya and Homabay will tell you that a fish rots from the head. It’s high time that the judicial filth that is stinking and pilling up in the corridors of justice be flushed out. We must realise that the Tunoi saga is only a tip of the large and minatory iceberg that looms below the sea of corruption in the courts. For the advancement of the dictates of our nationalistic covenant, the JSC, under the Chief Justice, must act in a manner that actually proves their ethical mettle.
But how will history judge the officials who are tasked with breathing air into the nostrils of this legislation? Perhaps good, perhaps harsh. But I am inclined, again, to borrow a fable from Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah. The Leopard had wished in all his life to catch the tortoise. Destiny finally accorded him a chance upon him on solitary ground. Humbly, the tortoise asked for one favour. After a little thought, the tortoise started digging up sand and throwing soil away in all directions. Puzzled, the leopard asked the reason for the strange move. The tortoise replied, “Because even after I am gone I would want anyone passing by this spot to say, yes, a fellow and his match struggled here.” To the JSC, just try. Generations to come will always stop at some point and say, “surely, they tried.”