Del Monte reads mischief in suit against lease renewal

Murang’a law courts. /ALICE WAITHERA
Murang’a law courts. /ALICE WAITHERA

Del Monte Company seeks to be party to a case in which two Murang’a residents want it stopped from renewing the lease for its pineapple farm.

The company has 22,000 acres. Of this, more than 17,000 acres are in Murang’a county and the rest in Kiambu. Petitioners Ephantus Githae and James Mwangi filed a suit against lease renewal on November 5. They said the land was leased to Del Monte in 1973 for 49 years by the old Murang’a County Council and it is due to expire in 2022.

They want competitive bidding for the lease. Yesterday, the case was scheduled for hearing but was postponed to allow the petitioners to respond to Del Monte’s application. They have 14 days to comply.

The petitioners’ lawyer, Sam Ogutu, said he will oppose it, He said the suit is against the institutions charged with renewing land leases.

“We aren’t against the company’s occupation of the land or renewal of its lease. We just want the institutions responsible to follow the right process,” he said.

Ogutu said lease renewal for land occupied by noncitizens should not be automatic and that other bids should be invited in a competitive process. But Del Monte lawyer Grishon Thuo told Justice Grace Kemei that it has invested heavily in the land and should be party to the suit.

He said the case is “mischievous”and could hurt Del Monte’s business interests. He sought to be served with all court pleadings and documents. Del Monte’s investment is likely to suffer because of the suit, hence, the need to have it as a party, Thuo said.

On November 22, the judge gave the Murang’a government and the National Land Commission until yesterday to file their submissions.

Murang’a complied, but the NLC did not and was not represented in court. In October, Murang’a assembly speaker Nduati Kariuki wrote to the NLC, proposing the formation of a technical committee to establish the exact size of land under the ownership of the fruit-processing firm.

He recommended the company cede 3,500 acres for income-generating projects for thousands of residents.

In November 12, Justice Kemei gave the Kandara Residents Association, which is also challenging the lease renewal, until December 23 to settle the matter out of court. The NLC, Del Monte and the Murang’a and Kiambu governments are involved.

The association had withdrawn the case and a meeting on November 6 at NLC offices failed to take place.