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Dramatic turn in National Theatre auction threat

By -JOSEPH NGUNJIRI | May 24th 2013


County Governor and new Cabinet secretary Wario agree on a deal to settle the Kenya Cultural Centre’s Sh400m debt

A deal by the state and the county government may save the National Theatre from auction.

Governor Evans Kidero announced on May 22 that a meeting between him and a top government official had agreed on how the National Theatre’s Sh400 million debt will be settled.

The Kenya Cultural Centre – which incorporates the Kenya National Theatre – was among the institutions earmarked for auction for failing to remit taxes to City Hall.

Kidero said on his Facebook page: “Theatre and arts have greatly grown in our county and it is important to preserve the centres. Together with Cabinet Secretary of Sports, Culture and Art, Hassan Wario, PS to State for National Heritage, Leah Gwiyo and CEO of Kenya Cultural Centre, Aghan Odera Agan, we reached an agreement on a payment plan for the dues owed to ensure the Kenya National Theatre continues to serve its intended purpose.”

Wario had on May 21 visited Kidero at City Hall to resolve the issue.

KCC chief executive Aghan told The Nairobian that there has been a misunderstanding over the status of KCC.

“Existing records indicate that KCC has not remitted rates as far back as 1953, and that is what necessitated the recent action by City Hall,” he said.

As a public institution, KCC should not be subjected rates levied on privately owned property.

But records have shown KCC is in private hands and is owned by Barclays Bank of England.

During the colonial period, the Queen of England transferred the institution to Barclays Bank but the matter was not resolved when the independent government started repossessing institutions previously owned by the colonial government.

“It is this misunderstanding that we went to clear with the governor and he was gracious enough to give us a listening ear,” Aghan said.

This is not the first time the institution has come under threat.

Sometimes in the 1990s the Lohnro Group of companies, which then owned the nearby Norfolk Hotel, sought to take over KCC, claiming ownership.

It took the intervention of former President Moi to save the institution.

Moi’s order was however not put in writing and the situation has degenerated to the current crisis.

Kimani wa Wanjiru, a cultural journalist and activist, said in his blog that it is a shame the national centre has been exposed to the danger of being sold.

“It is an indicator of the kind of neglect the culture and arts sector has suffered in the country. While the Nairobi county Governor and Cabinet Secretary’s action is laudable, we must make sure we never get back to this,” Wanjiru said.


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