|The crisis in Kenya’s correctional institutions was set to deepen Sunday after striking prison warders rejected a team set up to look into their grievances.
|Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka is shown bathrooms shared by warders at Thika prison when he toured the correctional facility on Sunday. Photo/ZACHARIA CHILISWA
The warders also asked colleagues to remove their families from prison quarters in readiness for possible violent confrontation with the authorities.
Police also announced that they were ready for a face-off with the warders who could be armed.
Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka appointed his predecessor, Mr Moody Awori, to head the eight-member team which includes former prisons commissioner Abraham Kamakil.
But Sunday, warders in 93 prisons across the country claimed that Mr Awori did nothing to uplift their living conditions when he was in charge.
Labour minister John Munyes and Cotu secretary-general Francis Atwoli also rejected the Awori team, saying it was not representative.
Mr Munyes regretted that his ministry had been left out of the team, yet it had the mandate to handle all labour issues between employers and workers.
He called for reforms in the prisons department that would focus on the warders.
Said Mr Atwoli: “How can Mr Musyoka appoint Mr Awori to head the committee to look into the warders’ grievances while he was part of the problem? He was more interested in reforming the prisoners at the expense of warders.” The Cotu boss asked Mr Musyoka to reconstitute the committee and include representatives from the trade unions, the Federation of Kenya Employers and the Ministry of Labour.
The warders also accused Mr Awori and Mr Kamakil of being more interested in improving the welfare of prisoners at their expense.
Leaders of the go-slow, which started on Thursday, told their colleagues via short text messages (SMS): “To our loyal colleagues living with their families in these rags, you are advised to arrange and transport your families home before Wednesday as the war is just about to start. No retreat, no surrender.”
On Sunday, Mr Musyoka came face-to-face with warders’ squalid living conditions when he visited Thika prison.
“The conditions of living of both prisoners and warders are deplorable but we are committed to improve them.”
He appealed to warders to resume their duties today as the Government awaits a report by the Awori team.
The warders grievances include risk allowance which is being enjoyed by the regular and administration police, non-payment of stipend for their participation in quelling post-election violence, and failure to supply them with uniforms.
They also questioning the whereabouts of Sh25 million deducted from their pay for the construction of Magereza Academy in Naivasha since the project is yet to start.
Justice minister Martha Karua said the grievances were genuine and were “part of the things that have been neglected for years by former regimes”. She said Kibaki had been in power for ‘‘short time compared to the decades of fornmer regimes.’’
Speaking in Nyeri, the minister asked the officers to give the Government time to address the issue.
The strike has adversely affected the justice system as remand prisoners have not been taken to court for the hearing of their cases. Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said they had put in place contingency measures to deal with possible public protests by warders.
It emerged Sunday that the Government failed to respond to warnings from the prison authorities over a crisis fuelled by the Sh10,000 stipend.
Documents obtained by the Nation show that the Commissioner of Prisons, Mr Gilbert Omondi, sent letters to Office of the President and the VP’s office over the matter.
“There is rising discontent among members of our staff because of consideration for payment of risk allowance to the police officers only although the Ministry of State for Public Service had information from my office about the matter,’’ Mr Omondi says in one of his letters to OP.
Reports by Kenneth Ogosia, Dave Opiyo, Muchemi Wachira, Oliver Musembi and Odhiambo Orlale