Owners of Patel Coffee farm, where a dam burst killing 47 people, yesterday kept off the requiem mass for victims held a few metres from the scene of tragedy.
Not even Mansukh Patel, the chairman of the Solai Group of Companies, who had 24 hours earlier consoled the families of the victims, attended the interdenominational funeral service at Solai AIC Church grounds.
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Rift Valley Regional Coordinator Mongo Chimwaga said it was not advisable for the owners of the farm to attend the church service, citing security concerns.
“We considered his personal security and advised him to stay away,” Mr Chimwaga told The Standard at the ceremony attended by President Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto among other leaders.
On Saturday, Rongai Deputy Commissioner Julius Kavita told the media: The management of Patel Coffee Estate has approached the security and coordination team for disaster requesting to attend the event”.
Questions were being raised on why no action is yet to be taken on the owner of the dam.
On Wednesday, after touring Solai, the Senate Committee on National Security and Foreign Relations demanded that Patel be picked up to record a statement, doubting reports that he had recorded one on Monday.
“Let the police do the right thing, even as investigations are ongoing. Get the dam owner to record a statement anywhere, and be taken to court. If they fear for his life, let them produce him in a station far from the killer site,” committee chairman Senator Yusuf Haji told the Senate on Tuesday.
“We have seen buildings collapse and both the owner and contractor are arrested and taken to court immediately. What is unique in the case?” Haji questioned.
For instance, following the collapse of a building in Huruma on April 29, 2016, which killed nearly 50 people, the owner was arrested two days later.
Senator Susan Kihika (Nakuru) added in the House: “A week since this occurrence, Kenyans are yet to put a face to the ownership of the dam. Does it mean Patel is above the law?”
“The security teams pursuing the matter are claiming that the locals are angered and want to lynch him. Which one is worse, the lost lives of 47 Kenyans or the security of the dam owner? We challenge the police to produce him in court,” said Isiolo’s Fatuma Dullo, who is also the deputy majority leader.
In a rare interview with a local channel on Tuesday, Patel blamed ongoing rains, which he said had put pressure on the dam’s walls, forcing it to break before it swept families living downstream.
“I would like to back up what my manager said that all dams are legal and we have all proper permission, and we have been paying fees on time. They have been inspecting the dams,” he said.
Patel denied claims that the dams had not been inspected by the Water Regulatory Management Authority (WARMA) and revealed that they last paid the agency in April for the safety assessment.
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He said the State ought to have stopped the construction of the dams if they were done in contravention of the law. He distanced his firm from any culpability in the tragedy.
“To bring back a life, that I cannot comment on… but for the people who were displaced, we will do everything within our powers, that the best we can do will be done, that I can assure the people in my area,” he added.
Yesterday, leaders who attended the requiem mass steered clear of the issue of justice for the victims, saying sobriety should prevail at this period of mourning.
President Kenyatta and his deputy focused more on issues of preventing perennial flooding witnessed in the country.
Calls for help
Even Senator Kihika steered clear of the topic. She instead concentrated on calling for help for the victims, saying the 500 families that lost everything in the disaster required urgent help to resettle.
Only area MP Samuel Gachobe came closer to pushing for justice for the victims when he called on the Government to speed up investigations into the tragedy.
Mr Gachobe, who has been on ground since the disaster happened, said the families needed closure on the matter.
Ruto told mourners it was not time to apportion blame but to work on how to prevent perennial floods that have wreaked havoc across the country.
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Uhuru reiterated the government’s commitment to ensure victims of floods across the country resumed their normal lives.
The President said his administration was working towards finding a lasting solution to the cycle of floods.
Patel is in charge of the family business that cuts across various continents. In Africa alone, his operations are headquartered in Kenya, but spill over to as far as Nigeria, through neighbouring Tanzania and South Sudan.
Solai Group of Companies owns the vast Patel Coffee Estate, where the family operates Tindress Dairy farm, which is one of the largest milk suppliers to the Brookside Dairies.
Other companies listed under the group of companies include the RAK Ceramics and Solai Roses, one of the country’s leading flower exporters.