Kericho governor Paul Chepkwony files landmark Sh87 billion claim against tea firms

Governor Paul Chepkwony

KERICHO: The hearing of the landmark Sh87 billion claim against key players in the tea industry began before a three-judge bench yesterday as defendants in the case asked the court to strike it out with costs.

Defence lawyers, led by Sanjeev Khangram for Van Rees Kenya Limited, argued before justices Hedwig Ong'udi, David Majanja and Hillary Chemitei that Governor Paul Chepkwony was not mandated to file the case on behalf of small-scale tea farmers.

But Mr Chepkwony's counsel, Peter Wanyama, dismissed Mr Khangram's argument saying it was based on misreading the Constitution.

"The county Executive, which is established under Article 179 of the Constitution, is equivalent to the Cabinet at the national government level. The office of the governor has been given numerous constitutional powers. The governor is therefore a juristic person because the Constitution says so and the County Government Act supplements it," said Mr Wanyama.

Competition Act

Lawyer Njoroge Mwangi, representing Williamson Tea Kenya and 10 other tea brokers, pointed out that the Competition Act provides clear mechanisms on how to handle disputes arising out of the alleged price manipulation or price fixing.

However, Wanyama argued that the tea brokers had only signed trade agreements with tea factories and tea farmers were not restricted from going to court for any alleged breach of their constitutional rights by the tea brokers.

Justices Ong'udi, Majanja and Chemitei set the ruling for October 3.

Meanwhile, the Council of Governors, through its advocate Tom Ojienda, sought to file an application for 1,000 farmers to be enjoined in the matter.

But Alice Bett, the counsel for the Kenya Tea Development Agency, opposed Mr Ojienda's application saying it was meant to muddle the case.

Chepkwony is seeking Sh87 billion from the tea companies as a refund to small-scale tea farmers whom he claims have been exploited by the tea industry players for a long time.