LSK joins calls for resignation of KTDA director over sexual exploitation allegations

Law Society of Kenya president Faith Odhiambo.. 

Photo credit: File I Nation Media Group

The Law Society of Kenya has waded into the controversy surrounding the election of John Chebochok as Kenya Development Authority (KTDA) zonal director over accusations of sexual exploitation of workers.

Mr Chebochok’s election on June 29, 2024, as a director of Tegat/Toror tea factory in Ainamoi, Kericho county has kicked up a storm in the tea sector in what has led to a boycott of the produce from international buyers in protest. 

In a statement, LSK called for the immediate resignation of Mr Chebochok and demanded that KTDA “implements robust policies and mechanisms to ensure the safety and protection of all workers from sexual harassment and exploitation.

LSK President Faith Odhiambo called for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to review its vetting procedures to conform with the express provision of Chapter 6 of the Constitution to prevent individuals with questionable characters from contesting for leadership positions in the future.

“KTDA and other stakeholders must be transparent about the steps being taken to address these concerns and must hold accountable those who fail to uphold ethical standards,” Ms Odhiambo said.

The LSK is also calling on stakeholders to take decisive action to rectify the situation to ensure all ethical standards are upheld.

LSK demands come even as more than 4,200 people signed an online petition seeking to have Chebochok removed.

Under the lobby group Nguvu Change Leaders, the petitioners said Mr Chebochok has no moral authority to lead the small-scale tea growers as a KTDA representative despite having been elected in a process that has been challenged.

It comes ahead of a Special General Meeting scheduled by shareholders on July 18, 2024, that will decide the fate of the embattled newly elected director.

The Nguvu Change Leaders is also demanding that the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) subject all the documents presented by Mr Chebochok to the IEBC for clearance into scrutiny as a matter of urgency.

“The election of Mr Chebochok undermines the efforts by the government and other stakeholders to fight gender-based violence in the country. It is a matter we should all deal with as a society” Ms Nelly Andeso, who is leading the petition, said in a statement.

The lobby group is calling for concerted efforts to ensure that women in the tea industry are protected from sex pests.

“Chebochok’s  actions are not only a violation of human rights but also undermines the moral fabric of the society as it has a negative effect on the mental health of the victims and the economy of the country” Ms Andeso said
Liptons Teas and Infusions and James Finlays have announced the suspension of trade deals with the factory while demanding that Mr Chebochok be removed from the position.

It stems from the past record of the newly elected director where he was captured in a BBC documentary aired on February 20, 2023, seeking sexual favours from workers and job seekers at multinational tea companies in return for promotions, allocation of light duties, salary increase and employment.

Mr Chebochok who was a contractor at James Finlays Kenya had the services offered by his company terminated as a result while the managers and supervisors who were captured in the secretive video recording were suspended.

James Finlays Kenya and Ekaterra Plc which were affected have since taken corrective measures to curb a recurrence of the cases that shocked the tea industry.

Six Non-Governmental Organisations under the Coalition of Organisations Working on Sexual Violence in Kenya have moved to court seeking to block the confirmation of Mr Chebochok as a director.

The newly elected directors who are set for confirmation by shareholders of the factor are; John Chebochock (Ainamoi), Kemboi Geoffrey Kipkirui (Kapsaos zone),  Philiph Kipkoech (Mosop zone), Japeth Chepkwony ( Kapsuser zone), Chepkirui Korir (Sosiot zone) and Evans Kiplangat (Waldai zone).

Already, the factory board members led by Mr Japeth Chepkwony have since asked Mr Chebochok to step down so as to save farmers from loss of business.
Usikimye Community Based Organization, Wangu Kanja Foundation (K) Registered Trustees, Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) Oxfam, The African Gender and Media Initiative Trust (GEM) Registered Trustees and Flone Initiative – are the organizations that have moved to court.

Mr John Chebochok, Tegat Tea Factory Limited, Kenya Tea Development Agency, Tea Board of Kenya (KTDA), Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) have been named in the petition as the respondents.

The Law Society of Kenya (LSK), Utu Wetu Trust, Association of Grassroots Journalists Kenya, Advocates for Social Change –Kenya, Independent Medico-Legal Unit, KATIBA Institute, National Gender and Equality Commission and Kenya National Commission on Human Rights have been listed as interested parties in the petition.

“This gross misconduct not only tarnishes the reputation of the tea industry but also inflicts severe harm on the victims, whose wounds remain unhealed, and their cries for justice need to be heard and redressed,” Ms Chepkoech (advocate) states in court documents.

The petitioners stated that on June 19, 2024, the Coalition Against Sexual Violence (CASV) wrote to KTDA and IEBC over the clearance of the candidate.

Mr Willy Mutai, the Tea Board of Kenya Chief Executive Officer had on June 24, 2024, written to IEBC CEO Hussein Marjan highlighting the potential negative repercussions on the global market for Kenyan tea.

The IEBC has sought to absolve itself from blame saying Mr Chebochok presented all required documents as laid down in the election manual before being cleared to contest, including a police clearance certificate.

“The checklist provided that a valid certificate of good conduct issued by the National Service’ Department of Criminal Investigations would suffice as proof of good standing of a candidate,” Mr Marjan said in a statement.