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Behind mystery firm building city on sewerage land

Monday August 19 2019

Ruai Sewage Treatment Plant

A photo of the Ruai Sewage Treatment Plant in Nairobi on August 15, 2019. Expansion of the plant has been hampered by land encroachment. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

VINCENT ACHUKA
By VINCENT ACHUKA
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BRIAN WASUNA
By BRIAN WASUNA
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As Kenya grapples with pollution of Nairobi River, a city is coming up on a disputed parcel of land in Ruai that would have been used for expansion of the Nairobi’s sewerage treatment capacity.

Investigations by the Nation have revealed that the city is being developed on a 1,600-acre parcel of land owned by Renton Company Limited — a firm whose ownership is shrouded in mystery.

The controversial property LR NO 12979/4 through various court proceedings is on paper owned by Renton Company Limited, a firm founded in 1995.

Renton’s records mysteriously disappeared from the Registrar of Companies but we managed to get its registration number, 65570, from a land deal it carried out in the 1990s in Kakamega.

Since last week, the Nation has been running Toxic Flow, an investigative series that has revealed to Kenyans the horrifying levels of toxicity in the Nairobi, Athi and Sabaki River (Kenya’s third longest), and how human activity in Nairobi is to blame for disease outbreaks downstream all the way to Malindi.

One answer to a cleaner River Athi, according to consultants at the Toxic Flow project, would be getting more residents of Nairobi connected to sewage services while, at the same time, enhancing the capabilities of the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company (NWSC) in cleaning sewer water.

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TREATMENT PLANTS

As things stand, only 30 per cent of the over five million residents of the capital are connected to the sewerage system, whose treatment capability was last upgraded 39 years ago.

This means that about 3.5 million Nairobians are either dumping their raw sewer into the Nairobi river basin or in septic tanks.

Nairobi’s sewer system, built in the colonial period, has two treatment plants — Kariobangi and Dandora.

The Kariobangi plant, which was commissioned in 1962, has a capacity to treat 32,000 cubic metres of sewer water per day, which is then discharged into Nairobi River.

The Dandora sewage treatment plant, which was commissioned in 1980, can process 80,000 cubic feet of water.

At the time of its opening, it was supposed to serve 80 per cent of Nairobi’s population (a million people at the time).

The choice of location for the plant in Ruai was determined by the area’s low attitude. At 1,480 metres above sea level, the treatment plant stands at the lowest geographical point in Nairobi.

This ensures that the sewer water in the city’s system finds its way to the plant through gravity.

ENCROACHMENT

Treated water from the plant’s large pond system, which at some point held the distinction of being the largest in Africa, is released to the River Athi.

But, since 1980, further expansion of the plant has been hampered by encroachment on its land.

As a result, the treated effluent does not meet required quality standards due to overloading.

Standing on the only available land that can be used for expanding the plant are two properties with a total acreage of 2,600 worth Sh20 billion, whose ownership is disputed.

The first parcel, LR No 121297/3 (1,000 acres), is owned by Offshore Trading Company Limited, owned by former YK 92 member Cyrus Jirongo, but the title is being detained by the Central Bank of Kenya over debts accrued by the politician.

The second parcel, LR 121297/4 (1,600) acres, is owned by Renton Company Limited, which is currently building a mega city on the property.

How Renton acquired the land has been subject of numerous court battles which have prevented the land from being reverted to the public.

Last week, while on a tour of the location, the Nation found earth movers constructing a road which will link the city to Kangundo Road and trucks delivering containers to the property.

OWNERSHIP DISPUTE

A network of spies linked to the property has made it difficult to get information and residents have been threatened not to speak about the property to strangers, and strange vehicles are immediately followed.

Officers from the Eastpark police post, which is located inside the property, harass anyone seen taking pictures of the construction work going on.

"People here have died by just challenging the ownership of that land. It is not worth talking about it. Just see what you want to see and leave," one of the IDPs living next to the property told us.

On September 27, 2014, Mr Onesmus Mutinda, who was a surveyor in Ruai, was killed on the Ruiru Bypass.

His crime, according to the IDPs, was questioning the ownership of the 1,600-acre parcel, which by then was occupied by the IDPs.

To date, the squatters claim they were given the land by the former City Council of Nairobi.

"He got a call to go and receive some money on Kiambu Road not knowing that it was a trap," says one of his friends.

PUBLIC LAND

Unknown men driving in two cars sped to the side of Mutinda’s car, pushed it to the roadside and sprayed him with bullets before speeding away towards Ruiru.

Additionally, among the cases the late Jacob Juma had filed in court was for the reverting of this piece of land to the public.

A copy of the property title, LR No 121297/4, which we have obtained, shows that former president Daniel Torotich Arap Moi granted the Nairobi City Council the land on a 99-year lease on February 1, 1996.

The grant was then registered on April 12, 1996. Renton acquired the land from the City Council on the same day.

A Hansard report from the Nairobi County Assembly of July 16, 2014 linked the land to a senior politician.

According to the then CEC Lands, Jairus Atenya, who was responding to Ruai MCA Charles Thuo, "the original LR No12979 measuring approximately 5319.91 hectares was originally government land which was transferred to the Settlement Fund Trustee on December 5, 1986."

He added: "L.R No. 12979 was sub-divided into L.R Nos. 12979/1, 12979/2, 12979/3 and 12979/4. L.R No.12979/1, measuring 1716.9 hectares, was vested with the former Nairobi City Commission for construction of sewerage treatment works.

"L.R No. 12979/2, measuring approximately 3614.2 hectares, is still held by the Settlement Fund Trustee."

COURT CASES

In the end, the county failed to repossess the parcels as have the numerous court cases surrounding the properties.

So mysterious is the ownership of Renton that Attorney General Paul Kihara has in another land case involving the company asked and was allowed by the court to attach a letter from the Registrar of Companies stating that Renton Company Limited has never existed.

In the case, which involves a Mr Patrick Osero and Ken Boit — yet another YK’92 bigshot, the duo sued the government claiming ownership of 90 acres of land that is part of the Embakasi Barracks.

Though the two were, through their Torino Enterprises, successful at the High Court, the suit is now at the Court of Appeal.

Torino claims to have bought the land from Renton Company Limited, and that the property was grabbed by the military in 2005.

But Torino attached Renton’s certificate of incorporation showing that the latter company was incorporated on July 10, 1995.

Meanwhile, Renton is no stranger to the courts in regard to the 1,600 acre Ruai land.

In the six court cases involving Renton and the Ruai land, only one name has been constant as a Renton director — James.

DEFAMATION SUIT

The Nation was unable to establish whether the varying surnames used with the name James in various court papers all refer to the same individual or several.

The first court appearance was in a 2010 court showdown between Renton and City Hall.

Then-Town Clerk Philip Kisia wrote letters to the managing directors of Kenya Power and lender KCB, accusing Renton of grabbing the 1,600 acre piece of land.

KCB immediately terminated loan facilities it was to issue to Renton, while Kenya Power stopped plans to connect the land to electricity.

Renton then sued Mr Kisia and City Hall for defamation and to stop them from further claiming that the land was grabbed.

In the defamation suit, Mr James M. Gatundu swore affidavits where he identified himself as a Renton Company Limited director.

Mr Gatundu claimed that Renton had paid City Hall Sh18.2 million for the land.

RENTON WINS

High Court judge George Odunga held that there was no evidence that Mr Kisia’s letters contained untrue statements, as Renton had acquired the land from City Hall.

The judge also advised that members of the public be warned against dealing with the land owing to uncertainty over its ownership.

Renton also sued the Lands ministry in a separate suit to be declared the valid owner, and was successful.

This time, the director’s name had changed to James G. Gachini. Aside from declaring Renton the legitimate owners of the land, the court also ordered government to pay the firm’s Sh981,542 legal fees.

Then in 2016, a group of 84 squatters sued Renton and its director James Mubia Gitundu, Custom Homes Limited and Embakasi Development Programme. Another director, Ken Boit, swore Renton’s affidavits.