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High Court say they ain’t qualified to adjudicate in Del Monte-Murang’a Government dispute

The High Court has declined to hear a petition by Del Monte in which the company wants the court to compel the Murang'a County Government to renew leases for its pineapple plantations.

While giving their ruling, Justices George Kimondo, Wilfrida Okwany and Chacha Mwita said the constitutional court lacked the jurisdiction to determine the matter, saying it ought to have been filed and heard before the Environment and Lands Court.

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

The judges held that the alleged violations of various constitutional rights are intertwined with the dominant issue being the right to renewal of leases over the suit land.

“This dispute falls squarely within the purview of the Environment and Land Court (ELC). We also find that although Del Monte claims a violation of various constitutional rights, those claims are intertwined with the dominant issue and that the ELC has jurisdiction to deal with the alleged violations,” said the Judges.

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 Njoroge Regeru, argued that it has put up massive investments on the parcels which includes factories, office complex, several dams and extensive irrigation infrastructure.

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.

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