Governor Ndiritu Muriithi risks being jailed for contempt of court

Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Murithi

Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi. His government becomes the first county to float a bond to raise money in the Nairobi Securities Exchange.

Photo credit: Gitonga Marete | Nation Media Group

Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi risks a six-month civil jail term after 35 doctors he sacked in 2019 filed a petition in the labour court seeking to have him cited for contempt of court for refusing to reinstate them.

The court ordered the devolved unit and its Public Service Board to reply to the petition from the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentist Union (KMPDU) and file submissions by March 16.

The petition lists Governor Muriithi, County Secretary Karanja Njora, Health executive Rose Maitai, Finance and Economic Planning executive Boniface Murungi and other officials as having ignored court orders.

Despite a series of lawsuits determined by courts allowing the medics to report back to work, they are yet to be reinstated.

The feud was first determined by the Public Service Commission (PSC) on August 12, 2020 before it moved to court.

In its decision, PSC ordered that the employees be reinstated after finding that the dismissals were unlawful.

The PSC found that the county government gave the workers a two-day notice to reply to allegations made against them instead of the minimum 10 required by the County Public Service Human Resource Manual.

“There was also no evidence to prove that the doctors received the notices since the respondent did not send the letters by registered mail to the last known addresses of the doctors as required by the Human Resources Manual,” the PSC said.

KMPDU, which presented the medics at the PSC hearings, said the notices were never delivered to its members.

Even though PSC ordered that the doctors be reinstated, it noted that they were not entitled to any remuneration for the three-week period they were on strike – from June 3-20, 2019 – because a court had declared the strike illegal and unprotected.

But the doctors were allowed to seek their benefits for the other remaining period that they were out of work.

Following the PSC verdict, the doctors moved to court seeking to have the devolved unit and the County Public Service Board (CPSB) to implement the decision.

Nyeri Employment and Labour Relations Court Judge Nzioki wa Makau, on October 19, 2020, upheld the PSC verdict.

But the CPSB, dissatisfied with the orders, filed another suit before Justice Makau’s successor, Justice Njagi Marete.

For its part, the county government moved to the Court of Appeal in Nairobi to appeal the decision of the labour court and the PSC.

In the two separate suits, they faulted Justice Makau for adopting the verdict of the PSC without considering their defence.

The suits also sought a review of the verdict issued by the PSC on the basis that the hearing was flawed and unfair as they were not involved in the proceedings.

The CPSB denied issuing a two-day notice, and instead said the doctors were fired after 11 days after being issued with the letters to show cause on June 10, 2019.

The suits also showed that some of the doctors replied to the letters and were reinstated to their positions but others moved to court.

But Justice Marete dismissed the CPSB petition in his ruling on July 19.

“What comes out instead is a complaint against the decision of the Public Service Commission in a natural case of termination of employment. The constitutional violations alleged by the petitioner are not demonstrated or illustrated in any way, rendering the petition risky,” he said.

In the Court of Appeal in Nairobi, justices Roselyn Nambuye, Fatuma Sichale and Sankale Ole Kantai also dismissed the suit.

In their ruling, they said the suit had no merit, saying they were not satisfied it met the conditions for granting the relief sought.

The devolved unit had asked the court to set aside the PSC verdict but the judges faulted it for failing to provide enough grounds for the suit.

“The county government has not even annexed any draft memorandum of appeal demonstrating the nature of the grievances it intends to take on appeal,” the judges said in their decision last month.

Following the dismissal of the suits, the doctors have now moved back to the labour court in Nyeri seeking contempt-of-court orders.

The case continues on March 17.