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War Memorial Hospital directors challenge county takeover as row worsens

Rift Valley
 

An empty ward at the Nakuru War Memorial Hospital on October 28, 2023, after the facility was taken over by the county government which later closed it down. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The ownership dispute over the prime land on which Nakuru War Memorial Hospital sits deepened as the court allowed the directors of the facility to challenge its takeover by the county government.

Dr Simon Mwangi moved to court, on behalf of members of the War Memorial Hospital board which owns the private health facility, questioning its takeover and closure, four days after the county government moved in.

At the heart of the legal battle is the ownership of the 11.5 hectares of prime land valued at Sh1 billion, which the hospital's board says has a valid legal lease of 50 years.

On Tuesday evening, after obtaining temporary stay orders from Justice Millicent Odeny of the Nakuru Environment and Lands Court, Mwangi mobilised 50 hospital staff in an attempt to return to the facility.

Their efforts were, however, thwarted by the County Secretary Samuel Mwaura, the County Executive Committee Member for Land John Kihagi and county enforcement officers who rejected the court order and barred them from accessing the hospital.

 

Residents of Nakuru outside the War Memorial Hospital on November 1, 2023, where they protested against a court order handing back the facility to its former directors following its takeover by the local county government. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Justice Odeny's exparte orders suspended the decision by Nakuru Land Registry to cancel the Certificate of Lease held by the War Memorial on May 19, 2023.

"The national and county governments are restrained from investigating or revoking the lease on the land," ruled Odeny.

The judge granted the hospital 21 days to file a formal application before the court, challenging the cancellation of the lease.

She also granted the hospital staff permission to operate until the case is filed and heard in court.

"The applicant (War Memorial) has leave to operate as a stay until the substantive application against the takeover is filed," ruled the judge.

The order gives the War Memorial possession of the hospital and Annex, which is under the county government since they occupy the same land.

On Friday last week, the county government, on the strength of the decision of the county assembly resolution, took over the hospital and shut it down on claims that it was standing on public land.

The hospital was then placed under the management of Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital Annex.

Out of 18 patients who were being attended to at the hospital, nine were transferred to PGH-Annex, which is adjacent to the War Memorial. They included 15 adults and three were babies. Three other patients were discharged, while another three were taken to private hospitals.

 

Nakuru Town West MP Samuel Arama addressing the press in Nakuru when he supported the county government's decision to take over of the Nakuru War Memorial Hospital. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

To lock the 50 staff from the facility, the county government erected a new gate and deployed enforcement officers to man it.

On Tuesday evening, there was a heated exchange between Dr Mwangi and Dr Mwaura over the court order, as the latter insisted that the order had to be verified first.

"Cases of fake orders are not new in Nakuru City. Because we were not present in court, we need first to confirm whether the order is authentic," said Mwaura.

However, when a court process server arrived, Mwaura declined to receive the order.

The director and the court server tried to pin the orders on Mwaura's vehicle, but they were unsuccessful. They later pinned it at the hospital's gate.

"We have served the orders to the county attorney, and we tried to do the same to the county secretary, but he refused. We will now seek legal redress," said Mwangi.

Mwaura, then stormed out of the facility at around 5 pm, leaving the staff and youths chanting 'Haki yetu'.

On Wednesday, hundreds of youth protested on the streets of Nakuru City and ended up at the contested hospital, where they condemned the court for siding with the directors of War Memorial Hospital.

 

Police officers and Nakuru County askaris at the War Memorial Hospital main entrance November 1, 2023. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Nakuru West MP Samuel Arama supported the takeover by the government. He said the hospital had been selfish and expensive for residents of Nakuru.

Arama insisted that unless the hospital is under the care of the county government, residents of Nakuru will not get services at the hospital.

"Patients have been forced to pay deposits before getting services. We cannot have such hospitals when the public ones are overwhelmed," said the MP.

He, however, urged the county to absorb the staff who were serving at the War Memorial.

Following the resistance, Dr Mwangi said they will be seeking redress in court. He said they will not be involved in any demonstrations.

"We are not powerful, and I have left all the matter in the hands of my lawyers and the court. We have not been granted access back to the unfair hospital.

The War Memorial Hospital was constructed in 1922, and in 1971, former President Jomo Kenyatta ordered that the hospital be annexed to serve Kenyans. In the 1970s, the government took over part of the 25 acres as Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital Annex.

On October 27, 2023, the county government of Nakuru took over possession of the War Memorial Hospital and shut it down. On October 30, 2023, directors of War Memorial moved to court to protest the takeover and were, on October 31, 2023, granted orders to repossess the hospital.

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