Why Lamu fishermen will wait longer for Sh1.8b KPA pay

An aerial view of Lamu Port. Dredging of the port destroyed fishing grounds. Fisherfolk are now demanding compensation from Kenya Ports Authority. [Courtesy]

In March this year, Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), started collecting and verifying signatures and bank accounts for 4,734 fishermen in Lamu county, ahead of their compensation.

The fishermen were being compensated for lost fishing grounds due to the construction of Lamu Port.

The fisherfolk were elated as they witnessed clerks being trained to ensue a smooth compensation process after a long-running high court battle with KPA from 2012 when former President Mwai Kibaki presided over the groundbreaking ceremony for the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor infrastructure project, to 2018 when they were awarded Sh1.8 billion.

KPA moved to the Court of Appeal but later in 2022, decided to settle the matter out of  court promising the fisher-folk a windfall.

KPA chairman Benjamin Tayari launched the training of clerks hired  to collect the signatures and bank accounts that ran from March 23 to March 29 this year amid optimism.

“As a clerk, it is your responsibility to always ensure that you have the validated list of fishermen and the agreements for the area you have been allocated,” said KPA’s Principal Legal Officer Stephen Kyandih then.

He added that during the exercise, efforts would be made to ensure each fisherman is physically contacted to append their signature on the agreement.

“In cases where one of them is unable to physically come to the designated venue to sign the agreement, the appointed officials and clerks will make arrangements to reach the person physically for the signature,” he added.

The compensation committee co-chair, KPA Corporate Communication Manager Bernard Osero, had  thanked the fishermen for their patience and urged the clerks to be thorough and accurate during the verification process.

He said the compensation exercise was  pursuant to the court order issued in Nairobi civil appeal  number 230 of 2018 issued on December 5, 2022.

Lamu County Beach Management Unit (BMU) chairman Somo Mohamed Somo and ‘Save Lamu’ chair Mohamed Athman said they had great hope that KPA would finalise the compensation. 

The fishermen were awarded Sh1.8 billion compensation by the court after they proved that they would no longer be able to undertake fishing activities due to dredging activities at the Port of Lamu.

They would have  received  65 per cent direct cash compensation with the 35 per cent remainder being set aside for sustainability of Lamu County fishing activities.

They were to get compensated 45 days after the verified list was put in place in the exercise overseen by KPA and Lamu County government.

But this was not to be. As soon as the list was ready, the Ethics and Anti-Commission Commission (EACC) stopped the compensation process and delved into rigorous  screening following claims of corruption, complicating  matters for the fishers.

EACC announced last week it had unearthed 569 ghost fishermen from the  list of 4,734  names forwarded for compensation  and also discovered that 433 genuine fishers  had been locked out.

According to EACC, the fake fishermen could have cost KPA and government  a total of Sh137,5354 in irregular payment.

Speaking in Mombasa, EACC head of corporate communication Eric Ngumbi said the commission will have to  seek the court of appeal validation of the list of 4,164 genuine fishermen before they are compensated.

“Early this year, the commission stopped the compensation of fishermen in Lamu following allegations of fraud among the over 4,000 names. We commenced investigations and we established that 569 people fell in the category of ghost fishermen. We also established that 433 genuine fishermen had been left out,” Ngumbi explained.

But on Tuesday, Mr Somo complained that the Lapsset compensation process had taken too long and that they were tired of the drama since 2012.

“We are very surprised about the outcome. The court case started in 2012 and we were awarded the money in 2018. KPA went to the court of appeal and the matter was later settled out of court in 2022,” said Somo.

“We embarked on the verification and validation exercise this year and beneficiaries signed the forms so as to be compensated after 45 days. Then EACC and the county government embarked on processes that cause further delays.”

Somo is chairman of the 37 BMUs in Lamu county and also heads the BMUs in the west Indian Ocean board from Kiunga in Lamu to Vanga in Kwale.

But Mr Ngumbi explained that  EACC worked with BMUs and other stakeholders to flag out the ghost fishermen who were in the list prepared by KPA and Lamu county government.

“The fishermen will get compensated soon after we get validation of the genuine list by the court of appeal,” he said.

Ngumbi said the ghost fisherfolk may be considered for prosecution after the compensation exercise.