Justice George Odunga.

The High Court has blocked a petition seeking to stop the government from spending public funds to build an exhibition hall at Nairobi Agricultural Society of Kenya due to a Kes85 billion dispute with a private contractor.

Farmers Trust Limited joined a suit by activist Okiya Omtatah seeking to declare a Kes750 million allocation by the government to build the hall an infringement on its rights.

The company is fighting Kenya’s 114-year-old premier agricultural show organizer ASK, for a contract to develop its 15 ASK showgrounds.

Justice George Odunga said the case could not be argued in a constitutional petition since the matter was already before the Environment and Land Court and the International Court of Arbitration (ICC).

“It is clear that the issues the subject of the cross-petition are the subject matter of the arbitral proceedings and the case before the Environment and Land Court,” Mr Justice Odunga said.

“No reason has been advanced why the issues cannot be conclusively determined before the said tribunal particularly the Environment and Land Court which is constitutionally empowered to deal with constitutional matters regarding interests in land,” he said.

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Farmers Trust Limited won a 60-year lease to develop 15 showground sites across the country worth Kes85 billion.

The deal would see the company operate and maintain service apartments to provide accommodation for exhibitors and their staff, visiting traders, tourists, and for recuperating patients and other persons.

It would also design, construct, finance, and maintain the new facilities at the show grounds while maintaining liaison offices for companies exhibiting goods, for trading, and as a multi-media centre and an international financial centre.

However, in 2016, the ASK terminated the said lease as a result of which the Farmers Trust commenced arbitral proceedings.

The firm tried to join forces with Mr Omtatah who had petitioned High Court over ASK receiving funds from the government yet it was a private entity.

Mr Omtatah and Farmers Trust Limited argued that all the 643 hactares of land occupied by the ASK are donated by the State and the ASK does not pay any land rates for it and that further, the ASK requested and was allocated funds by the government to the tune of Kes750 Million.

ASK said the money was a grant which was approved by Parliament in 2017 after it developed its master plan that would be implemented in phases.

The first phase was the construction of an expo hall that commenced in August 2010 at an estimated cost of Kes620 million.

ASK said no money was lost when in 2018 they received Kes175 million which was disclosed in their financial statements and that the building is now 85 per cent complete.

Mr Justice Odunga said ASK can receive resources from the government because they offer services for the benefit of the general public.

The judge, however, ruled that being a recipient of state donations and grants the Auditor General is mandated to investigate utilization of the funds and report to Parliament for appropriate action.

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