06 Dec

Afraid that they could be in contempt of court, several Kenya Tea Development Agency-run factories have called off elections set for Friday morning after it emerged that a High Court order stopping the elections had not been lifted. Earlier, an attempt by KTDA to walk away from a court case concerning tea regulations – and conduct elections for factory directors against a court order - hit a hitch on Thursday after High Court in Nairobi directed the company to file written submissions on its withdrawal from a case filed by tea auction house, East African Tea Traders Association (EATTA). While KTDA had been included as an interested party in the EATTA case which stopped the implementation of the regulations gazetted by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya, EATTA had, in a strange twist, withdrawn its petition against KTDA – meaning that KTDA would not be party to any orders issued by the High Court. That happened after tea farmers were enjoined in the EATTA case, through lawyer Patrick Ngunjiri, and the High Court stopped KTDA from conducting elections until the regulations matter was heard and determined. Last week, Justice Eric Ogola had ordered the EATTA case in Mombasa to be consolidated with another case filed by KTDA in Nairobi seeking to stop the Steering Committee on the Implementation of Tea Reforms in Kenya from meeting and implementing the new regulations. But while Justice Ogola had extended the interim orders to stop the elections, there was confusion after the KTDA lawyer Ben Milimo, wrote a letter dated November 26, 2020 to KTDA arguing that since EATTA “has wholly withdrawn the petition against KTDA, consequently, KTDA is no longer a party to the petition case as filled in Mombasa, and any litigations attendant issues therein do not affect KTDA and KTDA will not participate in the said proceedings henceforth.” He also sought his fees and declared the file “closed”. But the farmers’ lawyer Patrick Ngunjiri wrote to the KTDA lawyer warning that “should your client proceed to conduct elections in the tea factories as planned, your client, its directors, and officers shall be liable to contempt of court and shall be personally liable to penal sanction.” “It is clear that your client construes the withdrawal to mean that they are no longer bound by the existing Court orders. This position is an erroneous misrepresentation of the law and blatant attempt to steal a match from other parties,” said Ngunjiri. While some tea buying centres conducted elections, High Court Judge Anthony Mrima confirmed that Justice Ogola had extended the election orders thus leaving tens of KTDA officials who had conducted elections in limbo. Justice Mrima has now asked the parties to make written submissions on whether the two petitions should be consolidated and also on an application by the Attorney General seeking the appointment of three judges to hear and determine the petitions. A third issue is a prayer by Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya and the farmers seeking to punish KTDA for contempt of court for proceeding to hold elections against a Court order. Justice Mrima will give directions on the three issues on December 17 and extended the orders barring KTDA from conducting any elections. The saga started after President Kenyatta order an overhaul of the tea value chain which he argued had been captured by cartels. As a result, KTDA and EATTA have been tussling with CS Munya after he gazetted new regulations. Both EATTA and KTDA argue that the regulations would kill the multi-billion tea sector. Ironically, farmers have been pushing for reforms and had sought to stop KTDA from conducting elections. 

Source: Nation Media