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State to sell dispute land for Sh15b in cement company’s bail-out

NAIROBI
By Peterson Githaiga | September 27th 2018

Aimi Ma Lukenya Society chairman Julius Mutua address members recently. The society claims to have a 4,298 acres title deed acquired in 25th May1980 a decade after making payment for the piece of land at the East African Portland Cement. [PHOTO: PETERSON GITHAIGA].

A tussle between the local community and a cement company over the ownership of land at Athi River, Machakos County, is far from over.

The latest dispute has been sparked by the recent announcement of Trade and Industrialisation Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya that the Government had decided to dispose of the dispute land to bail the company out.

The East African Portland Cement Company (EAPCC) is operating at 50 per cent production capacity and requires Sh15 billion to attain full operation.

Wide consultations

Speaking at the company’s plant in Athi River, Mr Munya said the Government would sell 900 acres of the land in Mavoko to Kenya Railways.

Kenya Railways wants to build a modern container terminal at a cost of Sh5.2 billion. Mr Munya said 16,000 more acres would be sold to fully bail out the company.

The CS said the decision was arrived at after wide consultations with all concerned stakeholders. He said the company’s assets would not be auctioned, as earlier directed by a court due to debts owed to financial institutions and workers.

Munya said the land valuation had already been done and the sale process was underway and was expected to be completed in three months.

The company owes its workers Sh1.5 billion gratuity, Kenya Commercial Bank (Sh4.5 billion) and billions to other assorted creditors. The company requires Sh2 billion refurbishment to operate to capacity.

Munya dismissed claims that the company management had failed, attributing the firm’s woes to a bloated workforce it had inherited and billions in pending loans.

The CS warned politicians against interfering with the company management, saying the Government would keenly monitor it to ensure it went back to full operation.

He said the company was key in attaining President Uhuru Kenyatta’s industrialisation agenda. He said the gratuity owed to workers would be paid.

The firm recently dismissed 620 workers whose contracts had expired in a turnaround strategy of reducing the wage bill of the workforce of over 1,500 workers. It pays Sh200 million a month in salaries.

However, the question of who owns the land is still in dispute. Thousands of people live on the land under different entities.

EAPCC’s board of directors has insisted that the land belongs to the company and that the ‘intruders’ must be ejected.

At a press conference held at the factory headquarters in Athi River last week, the board chairman, Kungu Gatabaki, said plans to eject the ‘intruders’ were long overdue.

“We are aware that thousands have invaded our land and we are now ready to eject them. We have all our land titles intact in the bank and those claiming a share of Portland assets need to understand this,” said Mr Gatabaki

National Land Commission Chairman Muhammad Swazuri visited the dispute land several times, but no conclusive report has been issued.

The company advertised the land for sale in 2012 through a Gazette notice and in a letter dated January 8, 2013, the Lands ministry sanctioned the sale.

Been sold

The land has, however, been sold to investors who have already developed it.

For instance, Superior Homes, which own Green Park estates, bought the land in 2001, developed it and has been engaged in court battles with EAPCC for failing to provide their client with a title deed. The case is pending in a Machakos court.

Following the 2012 Gazette notice, the local community that has lived on the parcel for decades raised millions to buy the land. They have expressed fears that their money could have gone down the drain.

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