The tussle over the renewal of land lease for Del Monte Kenya Limited for another 99 years is far from over despite last week’s deal with Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu.
Mr Waititu signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the the company’s Managing Director Stergios Gkaliamoutsas, agreeing to facilitate the renewal of leasehold for the firm’s 8,000-acre land in Kiambu for another 99 years.
In return, the food processing firm agreed to surrender 635 acres to the county.
But even before the ink could dry on the signed documents, Senator Kimani Wamatangi is accusing Waititu of not following the law in the matter and sidelining other local leaders.
In a letter copied to the chairman of National Land Commission (NLC), Central Regional Commissioner, Kiambu County Commissioner and the Del Monte MD, Wamatangi says the MoU overlooked certain important issues and requirements.
In the letter, Wamatangi says he has no objection to the renewal of Del Monte’s land lease, acknowledging that the company employs many people from the county besides other economic benefits.
But he points out that the firm also draws benefits from the land, which belongs to the people of Kiambu.
“It is important to clarify that the land leased to Del Monte belongs at all times to the people of Kiambu, and the exercise of it can only be within the limitations of a lease,” reads part of the letter.
He says upon a request for renewal of the lease, Del Monte cannot claim to surrender land to Kiambu people because, in the first place, it does not belong to the firm.
“It is the people of Kiambu to decide the size of land to offer and the terms of lease. This can only be after consultations through public participation and the determination of the current needs of the county,” wrote Wamatangi.
He accused the governor of sidelining area leaders in the matter adding that the decision on whether to extend the lease for the firm or not cannot be arrived at without involving the entire county leadership.
Thika MP Patrick Wainaina concurred with Wamatangi, terming the MoU between the county and Del Monte null and void.
Like Watangangi, the MP said he had no problem with the renewal of Del Monte land lease but the clause about the firm surrendering part of the parcel to the county.
“The company cannot give land to anyone since the land that will be surrendered will not be given to the county but to national Government,” said Wainaina.
“Only the national Government, through the NLC, can determine which land goes where and for what use,” he said.
The MP said the only way out of the impasse was to convene a crisis meeting on the matter, where all the county's elected leaders will be involved.
He said he had in the past bargained for about 500 acres from the company for the construction of an industrial park, a market, a motor vehicle inspection unit and sheds for jua kali artisans.
“The county can go ahead and give a ‘no objection,’ which is its job, but bargaining for a piece of land belongs to the Government, it is not within the county’s mandate,” he said.
In its efforts to have the lease of its vast farms renewed, Del Monte is also facing resistance in Murang’a County.
In suit papers filed in court in 2015, the firm’s MD indicated that political leaders from Murang’a had demanded more than 3,000 acres as a condition to renewing the lease that expires next year.
Governor Mwangi wa Iria wants the company to surrender the land along the Thika-Kenol highway for a planned city.
In court, Del Monte said it had agreed to give up 500 acres and later increased to 1,000 acres, but the county government refused to renew the lease.
The firm argued that the leaders later withdrew the lease renewal offer and instead increased their demands.
The issue has seen Mr Iria and Senator Irungu Kang’ata clash on a proposal to establish a city on the land surrendered by the pineapple firm.
Mr Kang’ata says the proposal of a city would not help the community, arguing that majority of residents preferred the construction of a university and a hospital on the land.
These facilities, Kang’ata argued, would benefit people from Gatanga, Kandara and Maragwa constituencies.
The senator argued that the planned city would lead to subdivision of the public land to individuals, and that there was need for public participation on the matter to ensure transparency.
“I am opposed to the construction of a city because the land will end up in the wrong hands and leave the community with nothing,” he said.
Yesterday, Wa Iria said he would not facilitate the renewal of lease to Del Monte unless the company agrees to surrender the 3,000 acres.
In an interview with The standard, NLC acting Chair Abigael Mbagaya defended Kiambu for agreeing to a new leasehold for Del Monte.
“After the county concurs to the renewal it forwards to the commission an application to review the lease. The county concurred and there is nothing wrong with that,” she said.
She said according to the Land Act, the former owner has the right to apply for renewal. (Additional report by Boniface Gikandi)