Del Monte school land case escalates row with Munga

Billionaire businessman Peter Munga. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU
Billionaire businessman Peter Munga. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU 

Pioneer Girls Thika, a school founded by billionaire businessman Peter Munga, has accused fruit processor Del Monte of curtailing mediation talks over a disputed 75-acre piece of land by filing a suit to lock the education facility out of the property.

The school says in court filings that there are ongoing negotiations between his Pioneer Girls Thika school, Del Monte and Goshen Gardens Limited — which previously occupied the land — but that the talks may be ruined by the suit filed by the fruit processor in December last year.

Del Monte has sued Pioneer International School and Goshen Gardens Limited to stop them from completing a transfer of the lease that would see Mr Munga’s facility take possession of the land. The fruit processor argues that it has not given Goshen Gardens a go-ahead to transfer its lease to Pioneer.

Goshen Gardens initially leased the land from Del Monte in 2013 for eight years, but the fruit processor opted to cancel the lease after its tenant defaulted on monthly payments in February and March last year.

Goshen Gardens sued Del Monte in April to stop its eviction, but the parties have since engaged in out-of-court talks.

Mr Munga now says part of the talks involved a deal that will see Pioneer take over Goshen Gardens’ lease. He says the fresh suit by Del Monte could jeopardise the negotiations.

“The suit and the application were filed contrary to the settlement reached between Del Monte and Goshen Gardens and in which pre-contract negotiations and consensus building Pioneer International School was privy to in a series of tripartite meetings.

“The application is an abuse of the court process and is intended to steal a march on the parties’ confidence in the ongoing mediation,” Mr Munga’s Pioneer International School says.

Goshen Gardens had in its suit against Del Monte argued that the fruit processor changed the terms of the agreement by reducing the size of the leased property from 100 acres to 75 acres.

Del Monte claims in court papers that it had only agreed to give any consideration to Pioneer’s offer to take over the lease after Goshen Gardens leaves the property, something the fruit processor says is yet to happen.

But Pioneer insists that Del Monte was aware of its move, and holds that it did even tarmacked the access road leading to the school “with the knowledge and tacit approval of Del Monte”.

“I was therefore surprised when I noticed on November 30 that a signboard for Pioneer Girls had been erected at the entrance to the property as well as along the Thika-Nyeri superhighway. Del Monte has not given consent for Pioneer to take over possession of the property. Pioneer has trespassed on the property and instigation of Goshen Gardens,” says Harry Odondi, Del Monte’s legal counsel.

Mr Munga, who is also the Equity Bank chairman, is the founder of the 15-year-old Pioneer High School in Murang’a, which has a student population of 1,500.

Mr Munga also owns St Paul’s Thomas Academy and is the chairman of Nairobi-based Pioneer International University-- which started as a college in 2005 but moved to offer degree programmes last year after it received a letter of interim authority from the regulator.

Pioneer Girls Thika is targeting middle class and upper middle class students. The school will also be offering Chinese lessons as well as aviation.