• KTDA told the High Court in Murang'a that the issues raised by the petition are grave and should be heard by a panel.
• They also want the petition merged with another one filed by Kericho Governor Paul Chepkwony in 2014, saying it raises similar issues.
The Kenya Tea Development Agency wants the case filed by the Murang’a government seeking to have its accounts audited heard by a panel of judges.
The judges are to be appointed by the Chief Justice.
The agency, through lawyer Mwangi Kibicho, said the gravity and peculiarity of the issues in the petition necessitate that they be dispensed with by an uneven number of judges, not less than three.
KTDA also wants the petition merged with another case filed by Kericho Governor Paul Chepkwony seeking to have more than 400,000 small-scale farmers in the region compensated by the agency over alleged exploitation.
Kibicho said Murang’a county is named as the third interested party in the case. Chepkwony accuses the agency of mismanaging the sector, leading to reduced returns to farmers. The case is being heard in the High Court in Kericho.
“The similarity of the issues and parties justifies the matters fit for consolidation to avoid duplication of judicial time and resources and the possible consequences of having conflicting judgments of the same court,” the lawyer said.
Kibicho said the agency’s application needed to be heard before any directions are given by the Kericho court.
The agency also sought to have an order issued by the High Court in Murang’a to have its accounts audited in regard to the bonus payments issued to Murang’a farmers struck out.
“On October 7, this honourable court issued an ex parte order directing the Auditor General to consider auditing KTDA’s accounts relating to tea bonuses for Murang’a farmers. The petitioner failed to disclose to the court that KTDA is a limited liability company and the Auditor General has no mandate to audit it,” Kibicho said.
He asked the court to set a condition for the Murang’a government to deposit Sh489,012,500 in court being the estimate fee for the conduct of the audit or have the petition struck out.
The lawyer also sought to have 69 factories managed by KTDA countrywide enjoined as interested parties in the petition.
But Justice Kanyi Kimondo refused to strike out the order to have the accounts audited pending a ruling that he will give on November 29 on whether the case will be referred to a panel of judges.
The judge further ordered the two parties to present their submissions on the referral of the case by November 6.
The judge said other matters arising from the case, including the merger of the petition with the one in Kericho, will be determined after it is determined whether the case will be heard by the team of judges.
But Governor Mwangi wa Iria who addressed the media outside the court, wondered why the agency was suddenly uncomfortable with an audit of its accounts.
"Two weeks ago, KTDA said it had nothing to hide but it wants the court to stop the audit. If anything, it should be encouraging us to check everything out," he said.
Wa Iria also wondered why KTDA wanted the case moved from Murang'a where his administration filed the petition.
He alleged that the agency wants to make it hard for farmers to attend court cases.
The governor said it is shameful that KTDA wants to enjoin tea factories that are owned by farmers in the case to defend their bonus payments.
"We went to court because of the uproar by farmers over poor payments, and they own the factories but if they want to enjoin the factories' buildings, then they should know that we will also enjoin farmers as interested parties," Wa Iria said.