Kajiado officials skip meeting to discuss woes on accrued rates

Governor Joseph Ole Lenku. He said the meeting was of no consequence since the court pronounced itself on the matter. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

A meeting convened by the National Land Commission to arbitrate the land dispute between Kajiado County Government and Tata Chemicals Limited failed to take place yesterday after officials from the county declined to attend.

The county government and multinational firm are embroiled in a Sh11.4 billion accrued land rate.

The county government has declined to renew Tata Chemicals licences and permits unless the firm clears the unpaid rates.

Further, the county claims the firm's lease has expired.

Last Thursday the commission wrote to Governor Joseph Ole Lenku requesting the county boss to release his executives for Finance, Lands and Environment to attend to the meeting.

"We were approached by Tata Chemicals Magadi Ltd on various issues relating to parcels of land they hold in the county, including matters of tenure and land rates.

"We request for participation from your office, particularly the executives in charge of Finance, Lands, and Environment and Natural Resources, who are required to bring relevant documentation on the matter," stated the commission's chairman Gershom Otachi in the letter.

However the meeting, which had been scheduled for 11am did not proceed.

A senior official from NLC said it was cancelled at the last minute.

On Sunday, governor Lenku had indicated that they were not interested in the meeting, accusing the commission of overstepping its mandate.

According to Lenku, the meeting was of no consequence since the court pronounced itself on the matter after it gave the county government leeway to collect land rates and other levies.

The governor said the land in question was private but not public, insisting Tata Chemicals Ltd was granted a lease to occupy it.

"The National Land Commission has no role in the fixing of rates; that is the preserve of the County Government of Kajiado, therefore we have no business to attend their meeting,'' said Lenku.

The company which mines soda ash in Lake Magadi owes the billions in accumulated land rates for the 179,374 acres it occupies in Magadi ward.

The unpaid rates have been a dispute for six years with Lenku maintaining that the firm must pay or leave Kajiado.

The county accuses Tata Chemicals of acting in bad faith in resloving the matter after the multinational pulled out of an arbitration process ordered by the Kajiado High Court in 2019.

Justice Reuben Nyakundi had referred the matter for arbitration within six months by the Ministry of Mining but Tata Chemicals Ltd gave the arbitration meetings a wide berth.

The multinational indicated it will continue operating and was on a path of innovation with climate-smart solutions at the heart of its business.

Tata's managing director, Subodh Srivastav, in a press statement said due to the high cost of energy, the company has resorted to climate-smart investments to cut on the cost.

''Premium Ash Magadi accounts for about 70 per cent of our overall energy consumption. The steep rise in global energy prices primarily factored into the decision to secure the future of the company,'' said Srivastav.

With a fleet of eight mainline locomotives, the MD said the firm will not stop maintaining the 146km railway line stretching from Magadi to Konza.

Srivastv said the company has petitioned the government to fast track efforts to upgrade the Nairobi - Mombasa railway line to the standard gauge metre.

He said the company is working on a long-term sustainability of Lake Magadi to address siltation challenges. This involves planting trees upstream, and creating check dams in the water catchment areas, thereby limiting soil erosion.

Further, the firm is building dams and drilling boreholes.

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