AG Justin Muturi: Tough rules for churches on the way

Attorney-General Justin Muturi when he appeared before the Senate Committee on the Shakahola deaths

Attorney-General Justin Muturi when he appeared before the Senate Committee on the Shakahola deaths at County Hall in Nairobi on May 10, 2023. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

The government has moved to tame the proliferation of questionable religious institutions with a proposed law that will introduce tough guidelines on the registration and operation of churches.

Attorney-General Justin Muturi told senators yesterday that he has drafted a Bill that will lay down strict rules for the operation of religious institutions, saying the current legislation was ripe for review.

The Associations Bill, which is currently being vetted by the Attorney-General’s office before being introduced in Parliament, proposes, among other things, the formation of a corporate governance body for associations. The proposal, which is aimed at churches where one person runs the show and controls all activities, will also provide mechanisms for resolving disputes in churches.

Mr Muturi, while appearing before the Senate ad hoc committee probing the deaths in Shakahola, Kilifi County, said the current Societies Act, which governs the operations of churches and other associations, was enacted in 1968 and needs to be reviewed.

“The Office of the Registrar of Societies has initiated a repeal of the Societies Act of 1968 and is drafting the Societies Bill, which seeks to improve and regulate not only religious societies but all societies,” Mr Muturi said.

“It introduces appropriate measures to regulate societies to address gaps in the Societies Act, Chapter 108 of the Laws of Kenya, which are currently inadequate,” Mr Muturi told the committee chaired by Tana River Senator Danson Mungatana.

He said the Bill would also incorporate some of the recommendations of the Presidential Task Force and Commission of Inquiry into the Shakahola massacre.

More powers

Also included in the Bill is a proposal to give the Registrar of Societies more powers to rein in religious organisations with questionable activities.

“Currently, there is not much that the Registrar can do because the role is limited to registration, checking whether the church has filed returns and de-registration only when he suspects or is made aware that the activities of the association are questionable,” said Mr Muturi.

Registrar of Societies Jane Joram told senators that there are currently 100,000 registered societies in the country, of which 40,000 are religious. She said since the lifting of the moratorium on religious societies on June 13, 2022, her office has received a total of 978 applications for registration of religious organisations. However, only 11 have been registered.

Ms Joram said that since the introduction of the Administrative Guidelines for the Registration of Religious Organisations in 2022, the number of religious organisations being registered has drastically reduced.

Among the requirements currently required to register a religious society is a copy of the national identity card, KRA PIN, telephone numbers and email addresses of each officer of the society, and a certificate, diploma or degree in theology from a recognised university for at least one officer of the society.

Senators want the academic qualification of the religious leader to carry more weight, with the head of the church having at least a degree, while other officers such as the chairman, secretary and treasurer should have at least a diploma.

The Registrar informed the senators that pastors Ezekiel Odero’s and Paul Mackenzie’s churches have been served with a 30-day notice to show cause why they should not be closed after failing to comply with some regulations. The notices to close the Good News International Church and the New Life Prayer Centre were issued on 27 April.

According to the Registrar, Good News International Ministries is facing closure on the grounds that its objectives are likely to be used for unlawful purposes and therefore incompatible with the welfare of the people of Kenya. Newlife Prayer Centre and Church face closure for failing to file tax returns for the past 10 years.