The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) was Tuesday hard-pressed to explain how a Chinese firm got a licence to excavate stones and materials from Oloolua Forest, Ngong Hills in Kajiado County.
This was after photos and videos which showed massive destruction in the forest purportedly by the Chinese emerged online on Monday.
Addressing journalists after touring two old quarry sites in the forest, the acting Chief Conservator of Forests Monica Kalenda said that while the activities going on in the forest may not be illegal, the licensee (Hydro Masters Drilling Company Limited), who was supposed to rehabilitate the quarries, contravened terms and conditions by “subletting” the special use licence to the China Communications Construction Company Limited East Africa to exploit the 7.554 hectares of land.
“I started receiving some reports yesterday that Kenya Forest Service rangers on patrol had arrested a lorry ferrying quarry materials from this forest.
“Upon verification, they discovered that the company, which was licensed by KFS to operate within Oloolua Forest, had flouted the terms and conditions of the licence by subletting it to CCCC,” she said.
Consequently, KFS suspended the licence with immediate effect as the contractor was supposed to report any activity that is outside what is permitted by the license to KFS, which it failed to report.
“I am suspending this license with immediate effect and those involved in destroying the environment and transferring the license from KFS, legal action will be taken against them,” she said, adding that they were not aware of the licence transfer from Hydro Masters to the Chinese company, terming it illegal.
“I was shocked, I was dismayed that even the roads were expanded. The environment has seriously been destroyed with no authority from KFS. The operation of the licensee has caused serious destruction of the environment and has not been reported to KFS,” said Ms Kalenda.
At the same time, the KFS board directed staff in charge of the station to step aside as investigations are done.
They include Mr Samuel Ihure who is the head of conservancy in Nairobi, Kajiado Ecosystem Conservator Francis Mathinji and the forester in charge of Ololua Philip Kosgei.
In a statement issued Tuesday and signed by Ms Kalenda, KFS said it intends to take legal action against the contractor for contravening the terms of the license which led to the degradation of the forest.
But speaking on the matter, the contractor, George Melonye, who is the director of Hydro Masters, denied any wrongdoing, saying he did not sublet the license but was just “engaging” the Chinese firm and that he had just finished excavation and was going to backfill the quarries.
According to a contractual agreement between the Hydro Masters and CCCC, which Daily Nation obtained, the agreement stipulates that CCCC East Africa was a “service provider”.
The agreement was made two weeks ago on March 10, 2019 and the licensee required the “service provider” to extract the desired amount of stone, murram, ballast, sand, stone and “any other product incidental to the excavation”.
But KFS and Hydro Masters had agreed that “the licence shall not be transferable and may be assigned only with the written approval of the service.”
The initial licence was issued in 2014 to Kwality Rural-Urban Environment Limited and spelt out conditions which were supposed to be adhered to. One of the conditions is the environmental impact assessment which was carried out before the activities could start.
The company then requested KFS to assign its rights, under the special-use licence, to Hydro Masters and the request was granted in June 2017.
The licensee was permitted to harvest hard-core materials and come up with a restoration plan of the 7.554 hectares (18.67 acres) of the forest as approved by the service, a mandate which was supposed to be in force for five years from the date of issue.
“This licence does not give the licensee the right to mining, quarrying, logging, timber extraction or other activities other than those specified in this licence,” states a clause in the agreement between Hydro Masters and KFS.
When KFS officials visited the area, no any rehabilitation activity had been done despite ongoing quarrying and harvesting of stones in the quarries, despite terms stating that it was supposed to be “harvesting of hard-core and progressive rehabilitation of old quarries”.
According to the agreement, permitted quarry activities were supposed to commence within one year of signing of the licence. But KFS said the contractor has failed to fulfil some of the conditions, leading to the suspension of the licence.
He has one month to remove all equipment from site from the day of the suspension.
Already, there is a logging moratorium but roads on the section where the quarries are have been expanded without permission from KFS.
“Even my officers who allowed the expansion of the roads during the moratorium will have to answer. The conditions of the licence were very clear – no interference with the environment. They were not supposed to blast or construct except moving in and collecting the waste,” said Ms Kalenda.
She said the challenge has been in all forest stations in the country where there are quarries.
“The service urges the Community Forest Association (CFA), forest adjacent communities and forest user groups to hasten implementation of the Participatory Forest Management Plan which will guide conservation of Ololua Forest and in particular, will address rehabilitation of quarry sites,” Ms Kalenda said in her statement.