Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza in the middle of Sh536m payout dilemma

Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza. [George Kaimenyi, Standard]

Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza is struggling to figure out how to pay a Sh536 million bill that an investor wants the county government to settle.

The money was obtained through a court settlement against former Governor Kiraitu Murungi's administration after an investor successfully sued the county government.

But it is Governor Kawira who is now grappling with the dilemma of whether to pay or not pay the amount requested by the investor as compensation for the loss of his investment.

High Court Judge Patrick Jeremy Otieno ordered the county to pay more than Sh339 million to the owners of Leopard Rock in Meru National Park. The amount has been gaining interest since the award.

Justice Otieno awarded the amount to Leopard Rock Mico Ltd evicted by the Kiraitu administration from the park, which was recommended by a chartered arbitrator, Calvin Nyachoti, on December 19, 2019.

Kiraitu's deputy Titus Ntuchiu had in the past said by evicting the investor, they were executing a notice to the investor to vacate issued by their predecessor, former Governor Peter Munya's administration.

"We do not have any (money) to pay," Governor Kawira said, adding that they would explore possible dialogue with the investor.

She spoke after she and her deputy Mutuma Ethingia visited the park and the hotel ruins.

"So that we can attempt to forge an amicable way forward, it is unfortunate to see such resources that would earn us revenue lying dormant and in abject disrepair. We must exploit all our resources for the collective benefit of the people of Meru," she said.

She added: "I urge county employees to handle investors ethically and within set legal frameworks to avoid paying astronomical amounts of money in damages due to negligence. Investors help our county to grow directly and indirectly."

Kawira also said her administration plans to upgrade the park's hospital to a level 3 facility that will serve park employees, tourists, and the surrounding community.

The award against the county was for the cost of facilities installed by Michael Jean Dechauffur's company, as well as the cost of movable assets left at the hotel.

Dechauffur ran the Leopard Lodge, which was built on approximately 40 acres owned by the now-defunct Nyambene County Council, from 2001 to 2018 under a lease agreement signed in 2001.

After 2001 the lease was replaced with another dated October 3, 2008.

The lease, according to documents in court, was entered into on October 3, 2008, and was to expire in 2034.

However, the lease ended due to termination on March 8, 2019, by the county government, leading to a claim by the owner to the tune of Sh525.8 million as compensation.

On October 1, 2008, the Nyambene County Council and the lodge's owner agreed to execute a new lease done on October 3, 2008.

However, the lease did not run full term as the owner was evicted in 2018.

Pricewater house Coopers valued the loss of investment at Sh175.8 million and the owner at trial produced an inventory and the value of moveable assets at Sh20.4 million. It was a total of Sh525.8 million being pleaded.

In the arbitration award, the owner was awarded Sh329.6 million being costs of facilities built, Sh7.4 million cost of assorted movable assets together with interest at 14 per cent per year from March 8, 2019, till payment is made in full, plus costs of the proceedings.

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