Fruit maker seeks to stop NLC from hearing historical land dispute

A fruit processor has opposed a move by residents to claim part of its vast land in Kiambu and Murang’a counties.

Del Monte Kenya Ltd, in an urgent suit filed at the High Court before Justice Chacha Mwita, wants to stop the National Land Commission (NLC) from hearing a petition seeking part of their 22,000-acre fruit plantation.

Through lawyer Njoroge Regeru, the company said it was not fair for Kandara Residents Association and Canneries Environ Residents Association to claim part of its land after it had established a multi-billion-shilling investment that could be lost if NLC ruled in their favour. “NLC is proceeding to hear the residents’ petition without according the company a chance to properly defend itself. Unless they are stopped, they will proceed to rely on lies to dispossess the company of their investments,” said Mr Regeru.

The lawyer said the two associations had filed a complaint citing historical injustices by Del Monte. They claimed their ancestral land was illegally taken and were seeking the NLC’s help to kick the company out of their land.

But Regeru argued that the commission had no jurisdiction to hear the dispute given that the matter had been settled in court.

He argued that evicting the company would cause losses to the economy. “In 2018 alone, the company paid in excess of Sh1 billion in various taxes to the Exchequer and will pay even more in 2019. Further, by virtue of its export sales, they earned the country more than Sh10 billion in foreign exchange, which is now at risk of being lost.”

Regeru noted that the company had built houses, schools, health centres as well as employing over 7,000 people.

Separately, the Environment and Lands Court in Murang’a was on Monday told that talks on the Del Monte land case had collapsed.

Lawyer Josphat Kimwere for the Murang’a Government told Justice Grace Kemei that the mediation process failed to kick-off on December 20 last year after the NLC pulled out.

Justice Kemei ruled that the matter will be mentioned on March 19, where all parties are expected to appear for fresh directions.

An application by the Kandara residents association to engage in an out-of-court settlement was allowed on condition that the judge be notified on the progress made.