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Won't pay, can't pay: State owes Engineer Litondo Sh600m 37 years later

By Kamau Muthoni | May 14th 2021
Engineering consultant, John Morrison Litondo during an interview with The Standard at his offices, on May 11, 2021. The engineer who was credited for structural designing of Halal Meat Products, together with the owner Ali Motha who is now elderly and sick wants the government to pay them 4.4 billion, and 660 million respectively, compensation claims which were awarded by the courts sitting in Eldoret and Kisumu way back in the 1980s and 1994. He adds that numerous efforts from them seeking the settlement of the claims have borne no fruit as the government has kept no word out of it since then. [Samson wire. standard].

An engineer behind the establishment of the first private slaughterhouse is yet to be paid Sh600 million compensation 37 years after the government killed his dream venture.

Engineer John Morrison Litondo started as a newspaper proofreader but quit to pursue a career in engineering.

The engineer later teamed up with Robertson Dunn, a World War II veteran and a valuer for a project that would later land them in the deep financial crisis that would haunt them to their sunset years.

According to Litondo, Dunn died in 2019 aged 96, heavily indebted despite the government owing them Sh100 million awarded by the court in 1984 and which has now accrued interest to Sh600 million.

Halal Meat Products, a project originally meant to earn Kenya millions through meat exports to the Middle East was incorporated on December 21, 1972.

Within two years, it had acquired 22 acres of land at Bul Bul in Ngong.

“When I joined the East Africa Engineering in 1975, one of the projects which was on the drawing board was Halal. It had not been built and after discussions with the directors, they said they had already acquired some money from the Danish Embassy,” said Litondo.

“When the owner, Ali Motha, came to the firm, I was introduced to him and given the chance to design the factory.”

Litondo, a consulting engineer, recalls that Danish Embassy’s condition was that the machines would have to come from Denmark.

The slaughterhouse was owned by Mr and Mrs Ali Motha but was taken over by the government on the day it was to be launched and remained idle for six years.

However in 1984, when Kenya was experiencing drought, the government operated it for four years and then closed it again.

Today, Halal has surrendered its core mandate and just serves as an Administration Police post. It has also been sliced into two by the Standard Gauge Railway.

The slaughterhouse was meant to process 500 sheep and 200 cattle in a day. The abattoir took four years to complete.

The former student of Oklahoma State University, USA, explains that Halal’s problems started immediately after they had done test runs. He says unknown government officials wanted a stake but Motha declined to cede.

According to him, on the date of the launch, they found police officers manning the gate and were told that it was now State property.

In court, the death of Halal is said to be out of differences between its directors and the Ministry of Agriculture on whether Kenya Meat Commission (KMC) officials should join its board.

The Ministry of Agriculture first withdrew the services of six veterinary officers it had seconded to the company. Without them, the abattoir could not operate.

Halal remained idle for about six years and only became operational under government management when the country experienced drought in 1984 since KMC could not cope with the high number of animals.

On July 1, 1984, the Agriculture ministry placed the abattoir under the management of KMC. By then, the government had communicated its intention to purchase it at a cost that would be determined through a joint valuation.

The company believed that the government on August 10, 1984, would compensate it as assured.

Unfortunately, the parties were unable to agree on the modalities of conducting the joint valuation.

Halal hired Litondo to conduct a valuation of equipment and Dunn to do a valuation of the property itself.

Thereafter, the government, by a letter dated June 10, 1988, informed Motha that it was no longer interested in purchasing the abattoir and of its intention to hand it back.

However, Halal owners refused to take it back without a proper valuation to establish the state of the abattoir.

The government and the company held a meeting where it was agreed that the abattoir would be valued and that the report would be ready by December 31, 1991.

But by 1996, the abattoir had not been handed over to the company.

Court documents show that Halal wanted Sh350 million from the government as the purchase price. 

Meanwhile, the government was demanding payment of a Sh46 million loan owed by the company.

It pegged its claim on a judgment by Justice Abdul Rauf Samnakay delivered on March 21, 1989, in which the firm had agreed that it owed the government Sh27 million.

“When we presented the valuation, the government rejected our offer. The court told them to go do their valuation, through the Ministry of Works. The government’s valuation was lower than ours but it was missing important items like depreciation. Theirs was rejected and ours was accepted,” Litondo said

Knocked on doors

“I believe in 2000, the matter came to court and at the same time, the AG at that time, Amos Wako, wrote a letter to the court that it was wrong for the government to take over a private property and out of that, Ali Motha was awarded,” Litondo explained, adding that after hearing both parties, the court ruled the government should pay Motha Sh1.8 billion.

Out of this amount, Dunn and Litondo were to get 7.5 per cent, which translated to Sh135 million.

For the last 37 years, Litondo has knocked on doors, written letters, gone to court to compel the government to pay them in vain.

Justice Jean Gacheche ruled that the government would fetch its loan from the Sh1.8 billion, adding that the interest on loan would not be calculated beyond 2005.

She was of the view that the firm’s failure to pay back the loan was squarely on the government’s lap for its failure to honour its end of bargain.

She also ordered that Litondo and Dunn be paid their dues and ordered the government to pay the cost of the case.

The government appealed Justice Gacheche’s judgment. However, the Court of Appeal judges Alnashir Visram (now retired), Jamilla Mohammed, and Wanjiru Karanja threw out the case. Halal went back to the High Court in 2008 and this time before Justice Roselyn Wendoh.

By then, the award had grown to Sh2.3 billion. The judge ruled in Halal’s favour on November 3, 2008, and ordered that it should shoulder the cost of the case.

Meanwhile, Litondo and Dunn decided to pursue the government separately from Halal as the government had stuck to its guns albeit quietly that it was not paying. Their amount had shot to Sh600 million due to interest.

Justice Mbogholi Msagha on December 16, 2020, ordered the government to pay the two what belonged to them.

Litondo wrote to the AG Kihara Kariuki this year, seeking release of the money owed now for 37 years.

However, deputy chief state counsel Waigi Kamau on April 27, 2021, blamed the Treasury for the non-payment. Litondo has also written to Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya.  

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