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NEMA, DPP building case against lead factory owners

By Alphonce Shiundu | May 7th 2015

National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) is working with the Director of Public Prosecutions to gather evidence to prosecute the owners of the factory blamed for lead poisoning in Mombasa, the National Assembly Committee on Environment has learned.

MPs were concerned over the payments to the victims of the lead poisoning, and if NEMA had some sort of bond with the businessmen to mitigate in case of adverse pollution.

Nema Director General Geoffrey Wahungu said the authority had no money to pay the victims in its national budget, but it will pursue the court case, and work out the damages, and wait for the court to award compensation.

Prof Wahungu admitted that he depended on reports from public health officials to keep the shady businessmen in operation.

But now that the matter has been exposed, Nema has been "in constant communication with the DPP's office.

"We are building evidence to sustain a prosecution against the factory's owners," Wahungu said.

The NEMA boss said it is hard for the regulator to know what happens to the environment unless a complaint is filed.

Environmental audits

"The truth is we have a lack of capacity. A lot of what we do is react to what has been reported to us," he said adding that he only has 375 inspectors to deal with environmental pollution and audits across the country.

"It is actually a constraint. We are really struggling," Wahungu added.

However, the MPs felt that NEMA got complaints, and acted, but every time they told the owners of the lead factory to stop the pollution, public health officials said the factory was now safe to resume operations.

Committee chairman Amina Abdalla (nominated) wondered why NEMA believed the public health officials even after finding out that their reports were somewhat contested by the public.

"If a Government agency continuously gives you advice on the status of environmental pollution and that advice is always contested, what recourse do you have?" asked Ms Abdalla.

Wahungu said when he realised that the complaints against the factory persisted, he sent in his investigators for a full inspection, and it is then that he realised that the owners were cutting corners, and it is at that point (November 2013), that NEMA ordered that the factory be shut down.

"But we depend on the experts to tell us that everything is okay. Even if we wanted to argue, we don't have the mandate or the expertise," he said.

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