President Uhuru Kenyatta has waded into the Sh17 billion land rates dispute between Kajiado County and Tata Chemicals Magadi Ltd.
Sources privy to the information at the company indicate that the head of state has ordered officials to convene an inter-ministerial dispute resolution team at Harambee House.
The high-powered meeting set for next Tuesday will be attended by top officials from the Interior, Treasury and Mining ministries in an effort to resolve the feud that has soured relations between the Maasai community and the multi-national company that is harvesting soda ash at Lake Magadi.
When President Kenyatta toured Kajiado County on his way from Arusha and had lunch at Oltepesi Picnic site last weekend, he promised the community that he would mediate in the dispute.
He insisted that all investors have tax obligations and it was important that a cordial relationship is maintained.
President Kenyatta then invited elected leaders from Kajiado to State House last Monday where the Tata Chemicals dispute was discussed as well as the fate of East African Portland Cement after the company sent more than 500 workers home last year.
Sources at the Interior Ministry confided to Nation that the President had expressed dismay at the staggering amounts in unpaid taxes and indicated the matter had to be settled to avoid further conflict between the Indian investors and locals.
Mining Principal Secretary John Omenge held a day long consultative meeting at Governor Joseph ole Lenku’s office on Wednesday.
Tata Chemicals has sued the county after the devolved unit locked the company’s offices early last month over unpaid land rates for the 224,000 acres it owns on leasehold.
The company is said to have defaulted on payment since 2013. On January 31, Tata Chemicals rushed to court seeking orders to restrain the county from demanding the Sh17 billion debt.
They also asked the court to give orders against interference of its property by the county agents. Kajiado High Court Judge Reuben Nyakundi gave the orders.
Tata Chemicals then went to Magadi and demolished the foundation of the office block which was to house the ward administrator’s office.
The official was to act as a liaison between the company, the county and the community.
The county protested the move and rushed to court accusing Tata Chemicals of contravening Justice Nyakundi’s earlier orders.
On February 5, Justice Nyakundi concurred with the county’s concerns and set aside his earlier orders.
He called for a court visit to the site and deputy registrar Edwin Mulochi led the court team to Magadi on Wednesday.
Court papers seen by Nation show that Tata Chemicals wants the county’s Finance Act, the basis on which the rates are calculated, to be declared null and void.
“We ask the court to declare the parts of the Finance Act in so far they provide for the levying of royalties on soda minerals, and in particular soda ash, by Kajiado County, are null and void as they are contrary to Article 191(2) and (3) of the Constitution,” the petition says.
The company also complains in its petition that Governor Lenku threatened to cut off the water supply to the company at a public forum held in Magadi.
The governor had said during the meeting that the company was paying nothing for all the water they used for their industrial activities yet the water is from a community water source in Magadi Ward.
The court was further told that the county had trespassed on the company’s premises under the guise of enforcing their demands for rate payments through their agent, Regional Business Connections, a debt collector.
Governor Lenku has assembled a team of 12 lawyers led by Mayian Sankale. Mr Sankale said the dispute is now in court and demurred to divulge details.
“You can only quote court documents because we do not want to be pre-judicial to the process. We have total faith with our justice system” Mr Sankale said.
Earlier in a press statement before the matter landed in court, Governor Lenku had categorically stated that the company had no option but to pay the rates.
He accused the investor of being dishonest in their financial disclosures, arguing that their books indicated they had annual revenues to a tune of Sh7.8 billion.
The governor also questioned the company’s statement that it had spent Sh276 million in corporate social responsibility activities in the county.