Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga has asked to be struck off a case in which he is accused of withholding his deputy governor’s salary since November 2019.
In documents filed in the Employment and Labour Relations Court in Nairobi on October 18, Governor Kahiga, together with Nyeri County Secretary Benjamin Gachichio, told the court that they have been wrongly sued because the decision arose from their official duties as county government staff.
The County Government Act, they argue, shields members and staff of the devolved unit from personal civil liabilities for acts done while executing their duties.
They say Deputy Governor Caroline Karugu should have sued the county government instead.
“The county government is a corporate body and all claims arising out of its functions and duties should be pursued against it and not its officers or servants,” the two officials told the court.
In the event that the court rules in favour of Ms Karugu, they argue, they risk having their personal property auctioned.
Through lawyer Kamotho Njomo, they also want the court to strike out the suit because there is no employer-employee relationship between the governor and county secretary and the deputy governor.
As a result, Mr Njomo argues that the Employment and Labour Relations Court lacks the jurisdiction to hear and determine the case.
Instead, they reckon Ms Karugu should present her grievances before the Constitutional and Human Rights Division of the High Court for redress.
“Only the High Court has the jurisdiction to entertain disputes touching on the legal relationship that the claimant has with the State, considering the fact that she’s holding a political office,” Mr Njomo said.
Ms Karugu moved to court last month, accusing Governor Kahiga and the county secretary of withholding her allowances since 2018 and salary since November 2019.
She says she last received her monthly salary of Sh685,250 in November 2019.
She also accuses the duo of failing to allocate her allowances, including for fuel, thus costing her Sh442,107.
She also alleges that the county secretary, acting under the instructions of Governor Kahiga, transferred her staff to other departments, locked her office for the whole of 2020, withdrew her security and failed to renew her personal assistant’s contract in December 2019.
The governor is accused of gender discrimination and sidelining her from county executive meetings.
But in their defence, Governor Kahiga and Mr Gachichio have denied withholding Ms Karugu’s pay.
Bank receipts produced in court show that she received a salary of Sh470,000 since she took the oath of office in May 2018 to May this year.
The payments were stopped after a routine staff-return report made in June and at the end of the 2020/2021 financial year that showed Ms Karugu could not be accounted for because she had not been reporting to work.
The two say Ms Karugu abdicated her duties as DG and as a member of the County Executive Committee in August 2019 without providing any explanation.
“But despite that, the county government continued to remit her salary until June this year when the report unveiled the allegations,” Mr Njomo told the court.
The two accuse Ms Karugu of raking in exorbitant fuel allowances for transport between Nairobi and Nyeri daily, forcing them to stop issuing her the allowance altogether.
Governor Kahiga has also denied sidelining her from county executive activities, saying that Ms Karugu willingly stopped attending the weekly meetings.
He told the court that at first, she would send excuses for failing to attend the meetings but that with time she stopped sending her apologies altogether.
So far, he alleged, Ms Karugu has failed to attend 39 meetings without apologies and another 14 in which she excused herself.
In his defence, Governor Kahiga told the court that his deputy cannot expect to be assigned duties, because she neither attends cabinet meetings nor reports to the office.
He has also denied the gender discrimination allegation, citing it to be a false statement because his cabinet consists of five women and six men.
The two accuse Ms Karugu of firing five of her junior staff within one year.
From May 2018 to May 2019, Ms Karugu allegedly fired a personal assistant, two drivers allocated to her office, a security officer and her office secretary.
They have also denied locking her office, saying that Ms Karugu visits the office occasionally for her own political convenience.
“The claimant has been entertaining political entourages in her office when she decides it is convenient for them to meet even to date,” Mr Njomo said.