Timber merchants in central Kenya have moved to court challenging the government’s decision to ban wood harvesting in public and community forests.
The move comes about a week after Environment and Forestry Secretary, Keriako Tobiko, said the State would extend the ban on logging by six months.
In a suit filed at the High court in Nyeri, the traders say merchandise worth millions of shillings was going to waste as a result of the directive issued last February.
The petitioners - Nyeri Timber Merchants Association, Nyandarua Timber and Trees Planters, Kiambu Timber Manufacturers Self-help Group and Kirinyaga Timber Manufactures Association - have listed the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), Chief Conservator of Forests, Ministry of Natural Resources and the Attorney General as respondents in the case.
Justice Jairus Ngaah certified the matter as urgent.
Through lawyer Muchiri wa Gathoni, they say they bought trees in government forests but have since been denied access to them.
“Employees, agents and servant of respondents are occasioning us and our customer’s great harassment by impounding processed timber on transit,” they argue.
As a result of the ban, the merchants explained, they continue to suffer great losses and their businesses risk being grounded to a halt.
“It’s arbitrary, irrational and unreasonable that trees cut will rot and become worthless. Property of applicants in term of trees bought and felled is wasting away owing to the ban,” Mr Wagathoni argued.
The traders say they had borrowed loans from financial institutions that continue to accrue interest while their businesses are not operational.
KFS and the chief conservator have raised a preliminary objection to the petition arguing that the court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
“Matters arising in respect of forest conservation, management or utilisation shall in the first instance be referred to the lowest possible structure under the devolved system of the government,” they stated in the objection.
The Forest Conservation and Management Act, 2016, KFS argue, provides that any matter unresolved by the county governments shall be referred to the National Environmental Tribunal for determination.
“An appeal from the tribunal then shall lie in the Environment and Land Court as established under the Environment and Land Act 2011,” Munyao Muthama and Kashindi advocates for KFS noted.
In any event, KFS adds, matters raised in the petition are subject to the jurisdiction of the ELC as stipulated in the Constitution.
The judge directed that the preliminary objection be heard on June 21, 2018.