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High Court declines to hear Del Monte land dispute

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High Court declines to hear Del Monte land dispute

DelMonte
An aerial view of pineapples growing at Del Monte Kenya Limited farm. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

A bench of three judges has declined to hear a petition by fruit processor Del Monte, stating that it lacked the jurisdiction to adjudicate the case.

Justices Kanyi Kimondo, Chacha Mwita and Winfrida Okwany ruled that the central issue in the petition was about the renewal of leases, which the company claimed has been withheld by Murang’a County government.

According to the judges, the matter is intrinsically connected the use and title to land, a matter that is within the mandate of the Environment and Land Court.

“The significance of jurisdiction cannot be gainsaid. Any court acting without jurisdiction would be employing its energy, time and resources in futility,” the judges ruled as they declined to hear the case, which was filed in 2015.

The company occupies approximately 9,143.455 hectares of land and through Mr Njoroge Regeru, argued that it has put up massive investments on the parcels which includes factories, office complex, several dams and extensive irrigation infrastructure.

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The lawyer said Del Monte has also put up 2,700 housing units for its members of staff, six fully staffed and equipped clinics, eight nursery schools, three primary schools and two secondary schools and social halls among other developments.

Mr Stergios Gkaliamoutsas, the managing director of the company said in an affidavit that the company has directly employed over 7,000 people who stand to lose if the actions of the residents are not stopped.

Locals and the county government said it was impossible to step into the property because of the heavy security presence. The residents claim that the land is public land and the fruit company has no proprietary rights despite occupying it illegally.

The county government is opposed to the extension of the land leases citing poor working and living conditions for the workers.

It argued in court that the company uses hazardous pesticides in the growing of pineapples and permanent damage to the natural resources of the people of Murang’a.

The county challenged the jurisdiction of the court to handle the matter arguing that all matters relating to the environment, use, occupation and title to land are supposed to be heard at the Environmental and Land court.

As the case was pending, Kandara residents filed the claim before National Land Commission (NLC) alleging historical injustices. The company, first challenged the jurisdiction of NLC to hear the dispute but a middle ground was struck and the parties agreed to mediation.

The Commission later resorted to the historical injustices route, forcing the company to move to court to challenge alleged radical recommendations made by NLC.

“We are not persuaded by the petitioner’s argument that merely because it pleaded various constitutional rights, the petition should be heard by the High Court.

“We find that the alleged violations are intertwined with the dominant issue,” the judges said.

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