How MSME tribunal speeds up the wheels of justice for hustlers

MSMEs dispute resolution tribunal chairperson Jackson Bett. [File, Standard]

The General Post Office stage at the heart of Nairobi's central business district is what boda boda riders describe as a hotcake for its constant human traffic.

Throughout the day, several motorcyclists will zoom in and out of the stage reserved for the Jiji link Sacco, which boasts 672 members spread across the city centre.

Occasionally, disputes arise over who should occupy the coveted spot, which may end up in court if not resolved amicably or with blows.

And, as it so often does, the court will refer the matter to the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) dispute resolution tribunal, the body responsible for settling issues within the MSMEs sector, which employs more than 13 million people.

Jackson Bett chairs the seven-member tribunal that assumed office in 2020. He says the tribunal dispenses justice expeditiously and at a low cost to the cadre of Kenyans colloquially referred to as "hustlers".

On average, the tribunal handles 20 cases per month and has already decided on more than 200 matters since 2020. Among the most notable cases were leadership disputes within the Kamukunji Jua Kali association and another involving traders in Mombasa's Marikiti Market. Currently, 20 cases are still pending before the tribunal.

Jua Kali artisans at work at a stall in Naivasha, Nakuru County. [Antony Gitonga, Standard]

"The cost in so far as filing the cases is affordable. Once you file a case at Sh1,500, we will hear the case from the beginning to the end. Our rules provide that we determine disputes within 60 days," Bett told The Sunday Standard in an interview at the Supreme Court library.

The MSME tribunal was previously housed under ministries, but it has now been placed under the Judiciary.

The tribunal primarily deals with commercial disputes involving MSME members and other aggrieved individuals. These disputes may include issues related to the allocation of worksites as well as matters concerning the management or mismanagement of MSMEs.

Additionally, the tribunal is responsible for resolving lending disputes among MSMEs, their associations, and lenders within the sector. It also addresses human resource issues and disputes arising from local and international e-commerce transactions involving entities registered by the MSME Authority. 

Appeals of decisions made by the registrar of associations, such as the deregistration of associations or the refusal to register them, are also initially heard at the tribunal. The tribunal's verdicts can be further appealed at the High Court.

Leadership wrangles are not uncommon in associations within the MSME world. Robert Katina, the Vice Chairperson of the MSME Tribunal, says many small enterprises often resort to the small claims court.

Motorbikes were impounded by the police after riders flouted traffic rules along Kenyatta Avenue near the GPO roundabout on March 8, last year. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Unlike the small claims court, the tribunal's jurisdiction is not limited to handling disputes worth a maximum of Sh1 million.

"The court may not be fully equipped to decipher the cases that we deal with, but we have had cases that have been referred to us," Katina said.

That calibre of leadership enables the tribunal to form two separate panels chaired by the chair and vice-chair, respectively, as it only requires a minimum of three persons to hear and determine a case. 

Besides the chair and vice-chair, the tribunal comprises two representatives from the Law Society of Kenya with at least seven years of legal experience, two advocates with knowledge of the MSME industry and two members from the MSMEs.  

"As a tribunal, we know these people are in the same industry, and we need to achieve peace. We encourage the parties to pursue alternative dispute resolution mechanisms," the chairperson said.

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