Save tea farm**s from lawyers fees, Kiambu MP urges Muturi

Wednesday, April 17th, 2024 07:45 | By
Tea plantation. PHOTO/Pexels

Smallholder tea farmers risk losing millions of shillings in legal fees over court disputes, an MP has warned.

Gatundu South MP Gabriel Kagombe asked Attorney General Justin Muturi to intervene and resolve the stalemate that could result to loss of millions of shillings over court cases relating to tea disputes.

Kagombe says unless urgent interventions are made, the scheme to pay hundreds of millions to lawyers representing parties opposed to implementation of Tea Act 2020 will impoverish farmers.

While the Tea Board of Kenya, Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) and some of its former directors want smallholder tea farmers to pay lawyers in hundreds of millions for representing the aggrieved parties in court, Kagombe, in a letter seen by People Daily terms the move as insolent, blatant and shameless disregard for the law as farmers were not consulted before other players arrived at the decision.

Sharp opposition

“I am concerned by a few clauses of the mediation settlement that are in flagrant disregard of the law among them Clause 13 that purports to commit small scale tea farmers to pay legal fees for services they never sanctioned nor received from law firms that are strange to them. This is an anomaly that if allowed to pass could lead to great loss of funds by the farmers especially having been sanctioned by TBK who are tasked with the duty to protect farmers,” the letter addressed to Muturi read in sections.

About 14 lawyers from different law firms represented KTDA Holdings, KTDA Management Services Limited and Kenya Tea Growers Association in two suits, where parties involved have reached a settlement agreement.

In one of the litigations, Nairobi High Court Consolidated Constitutional Petition No  E254 of 2020, KTDA Holdings Limited and 55 others had sued the Agriculture Cabinet Secretary and 26 others demanding review of the Tea Act 2020.

In the second matter, Nairobi High Court Consolidated Constitutional Petition No E016 of 2021, the Kenya Tea Growers Association and 55 others had sued the Attorney General and 24 others.

On April 2, 2024, TBK chairman Jacob Kahiu convened a mediation meeting between the parties which was attended by the advocates and came up with a mediation settlement agreement.

The parties agreed to withdraw all Court of Appeal proceedings arising from the High Court Consolidated Petitions. Also withdrawn are outstanding or pending applications, including the contempt of court applications.

Sharp opposition

A section of the agreement indicates that KTDA Holdings Limited, KTDA Management Service Limited and the Smallholder Tea Factories Companies managed by KTDA shall pay their lawyers appointed at various times.

“Kenya Tea Development Agency (Holdings) Limited, Kenya Tea Development Agency (Management Services) Limited, the Smallholder Tea Factory Companies managed by KTDA shall pay their lawyers appointed at various times. The Parties hereby agree that the Court of Appeal proceedings arising from the High Court Consolidated Petitions do and are hereby withdrawn with no orders as to the costs,” the mediation settlement agreement shared by Tea Board of Kenya to the Attorney General reads in sections.

The move to compel smallholder tea factories to pay lawyers is what has elicited sharp opposition with Kagombe now saying that farmers were not consulted and neither did they sanction any representation by the lawyers in any matter.

While terming it as a scheme by some individuals to pocket hundreds of millions, which is farmers’ hard-earned money, Kagombe, in the letter urged Muturi to intervene to protect farmers from losses.

“The spirit of the government is to ensure that we maintain law and order as we promote good governance in the tea sector,” said the MP in his letter.

Other areas of concern that Kagombe wants addressed is a plot to compel tea factories to conduct elections on certain dates, how and when to conduct general meetings and a move by former factory directors to present themselves for nomination as directors despite them being in alleged contravention of Articles 139 (5s) of the companies Act 2015.

Earlier, Kagombe had threatened to take legal action against TBK boss Jacob Kahiu and the CEO Willy Mutai as well as KTDA Board and Chairman Enos Njeru should they use farmers’ earnings to pay the lawyers.

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