Agency wants PS jailed over water row at export zone

A Kenyan worker wears a dust mask as she works at the Hela intimates export processing zone (EPZ) limited factory in Athi River, near Nairobi, Kenya, July 27, 2017. Picture taken July 27, 2017. [REUTERS]

The Export Processing Zones Authority (EPZA) has threatened to have Water and Sanitation Principal Secretary Joseph Irungu jailed for disregarding a court order. 

This follows last week’s High Court ruling barring the ministry and two water companies from interfering with the flow of water to the Export Processing Zones (EPZs) in Athi River, but Mr Irungu allegedly later ordered for its disconnection.

The PS is said to have acted following a directive by President Uhuru Kenyatta that residents of Athi River and Kitengela be provided with cheap water, cutting supply to firms operating in the EPZs.

Justice David Kemei had restrained the ministry, Mavoko Water and Sewerage Company and Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company from accessing or damaging EPZA’s water infrastructure.

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This includes a 19km trunk main from Firestone, a ground level reinforced tank at Beacon Ranch at Mlolongo and an elevated steel distribution tank at Kitengela.

However, EPZA through lawyer Paul Muite says the ministry has refused to comply with the court order and issued a notice of his client’s intention to institute contempt of court proceedings.

“This letter then brings to the attention of each of one of you individually and collectively and to the company, of my client’s instructions to me to institute contempt of court proceedings and to seek in such application your committal to jail in the event of any infraction of the matters injuncted in the said court order,” says Muite in court papers. 

President Kenyatta in February directed that residents of Kitengela and Athi River be provided with cheap water after complaints that they had been paying Sh50 for a 20-litre jerrican of water from vendors.  

PS Irungu consequently banned private vendors from selling water to the residents, a move that saw supply of water to the EPZs also disrupted, creating a crisis that could lead to the closure of some of the companies.

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The Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) and the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) have since written to the Government warning the prevailing situation puts over 20,000 jobs on the line.

KAM Chief Executive Phyllis Wakiaga in a letter to Industrialisation Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya said manufacturers are buying water at five times more than the EPZ rate.

“We would like to bring to your attention a persistent water crisis within the Athi River EPZ zone that houses a significant number of export-oriented firms, with the majority being apparel manufacturers,” she said. 

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EPZAEPZJoseph IrunguWater row