Directors wrangles to cost tea farmers Sh560m in lawyers bills

Smallholder farmers tea farmers in Nyeri. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Tea stakeholders from 34 factories in Mt Kenya have warned Kenya Tea Development Agency against paying Sh560 million to 14 law firms, following the recommendation of the mediation process brokered by the Tea Board of Kenya.

The 104 tea factory directors claim the regulator was skewed towards supporting opponents of the tea reforms through untimely calling for elections. 

In a meeting convened by Gatundu South MP Gabriel Kagombe, the directors led by their Mt Kenya Caucus Chairman Gwaragwara Nkosi from Kiunyu tea factory, poked holes in the payments.

Mr Kagombe said it was painful for farmers to shoulder a burden of Sh560 million for expenses they were not involved in.

He said TBK has failed to promote the tea export and instead had been involved in the local politics that have fueled animosity in the sector that earns the country billions of shillings in revenue.

“I have written to Attorney General Justin Muturi and Agriculture CS Mithika Linturi saying the farmers were not ready to pay the lawyer’s fees. Those who gave the lawyers instruction should be pursued,” said Kagombe.

The farmers, he said, appreciate the help accorded by the government, but interference by TBK should be tamed.

KTDA board members Chege Kirundi (Murang’a), David Ichoho (Kiambu) and John Mithamo called for transparency in the interest of growers.

Mr Kirundi from Kiru tea factory outlined his seven-year struggle advocating for tea reforms. Mr Ichoho, former KTDA Holdings chairman, said it was unethical for TBK through the mediation process to direct the election to be held against the tea calendar.

Former KTDA chairman Peter Kanyago wants lawyers who represented former factory directors of the tea agency in various lawsuits, paid.

According to Kanyago, the lawyers represented the tea agency in lawsuits against some sections of the Tea Act.

Kanyago yesterday said the legal fees, amounting to an estimated Sh560 million, should strictly be paid to lawyers who were given the green light by the court to represent KTDA.

In November last year, the High Court ruled that, pending the resolution of the agency’s leadership dispute, Millimo, Muthomi and Company Advocates law firm was the legal representative of KTDA.

The 11 cases which had been lodged in court have since been withdrawn following mediation among all parties that had fronted 17 lawyers from different law firms.

Smallholder farmers have asked their tea factories to defy remitting payments of legal fees originating from suits initiated by former factory directors.

“The High Court ruled that the lawyers appointed by legitimate former directors are the ones who represented KTDA. That is what the court determined. Those are the lawyers that will be paid by KTDA,” Kanyago told The Standard yesterday. 

KTDA company Secretary Patrick Ngunjiri said they were able to negotiate and mediate the 11 cases that had been lodged in court by the former directors in opposition to some sections of the Tea Act. Ngunjiri said that the move paved the way for inclusiveness in the KTDA elections slated for June this year.

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