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Economy

Biwott kin in 9,000-acre land tussle with community

Mining at the Kenya Fluorspar Company Ltd in Elgeyo-Marakwet County in February  2016. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA
Mining at the Kenya Fluorspar Company Ltd in Elgeyo-Marakwet County in February 2016. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA 

Elgeyo Marakwet residents have petitioned Parliament to return to them land on which a fluorspar mining firm owned by former powerful Cabinet minister Nicholas Biwott’s son-in-law is built.

The 555 community members claim that the government hived off 9,070 acres of their ancestral land had in 1973 for a mining venture run by Kenya Fluorspar Company Ltd.

However, the land was transferred from public user to private individuals without following the law.

Charles Field-Marsham, Mr Biwott’s son-in-law, acquired the firm in 1996 after the government ceded its stake in a privatisation plan. According to the petitioners through lawyer Mathews Okoth, the government issued a 21-year special mining lease to Kenya Fluorspar Company Ltd in 1997. The lease runs until March 31, 2018.

The residents want Parliament to intercede and stop renewal of the lease next year, arguing that Mr Biwott irregularly upgraded the land to an Export Processing Zone (EPZ) status, offering the firm exemptions from certain taxes and regulations.

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Mr Biwott, a resident of Elgeyo Marakwet, is a former Trade and Industry minister. He declared the land an EPZ through a gazette notice.

The Mining ministry later directed that the firm be stripped of the EPZ status which, among other things, allowed it a 10-year tax holiday.

Mr Okoth said hiving off the land had made community members squatters, adding that the company did not pay rates for use of their land. The government also failed to resettle them as had been promised.

Mr Okoth said that the government’s fraudulent conversion of the company from a parastatal to a private commercial venture was an abdication of responsibility which ensured that corporate social responsibility programmes that the community previously enjoyed were discontinued by the private investor.

The community wants the government to take over the company as a State corporation and future issuance of a mining lease to a private investor be done in consultation with community members.

“We also want Parliament to investigate the fraudulent privatisation of Kenya Fluorspar Company Ltd from a State corporation to a private company and ascertain beneficiaries of the fraud,” Mr Okoth said, adding that the community should be compensated.

The community members also want the National Assembly, through the Joint Departmental Committee on Land, and the Departmental Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, to decline to renew the company’s mining lease which expires next year.

Former Mining minister Najib Balala set up a task force in 2015 to investigate the company’s operations including compensation issues raised by the community.

Kenya National Bureau of Statistics data shows that fluorspar exports rose to Sh1.9 billion last year from Sh1.78 billion the previous year.

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