Six lobbies sue John Chebochok, want him blocked from KTDA director post

John Chebochok

Mr John Chebochok. He has been elected as a Kenya Tea Development Agency zonal director in Kericho County.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Six human rights lobbies have moved to court seeking to block confirmation of John Kipkoech Chebochok as Kenya Tea Development Agency zonal director for Tegat/Toror Tea Factory in Kericho County.

Mr Chebochok was elected on June 28, 2024 as director for Ainamoi zone but his win kicked up a storm following claims of sexual exploitation of workers at a multinational tea company in an exposé by the BBC.

The petitioners under the umbrella of Coalition of Organisations Working on Sexual Violence in Kenya and Crusaders for Human Rights and Public Interest Cases, argue that Mr Chebochok’s conduct, as portrayed in the documentary, disqualifies him from holding public office in Kenya.

The organisations that have moved to court are Usikimye Community-based Organisation, Wangu Kanja Foundation (K) Registered Trustees, Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW), Oxfam, The African Gender and Media Initiative Trust (GEM) and Registered Trustees and Flone Initiative.

The case comes ahead of July 18, 2024 annual general meeting of shareholders of Tegat/Toror Tea Factory, who will either adopt or reject the election of directors, including Mr Chebochock.

The other elected directors are Kemboi Geoffrey Kipkirui (Kapsaos Zone), Philiph Kipkoech (Mosop Zone), Japeth Chepkwony (Kapsuser Zone), Chepkirui Korir (Sosiot Zone) and Evans Kiplangat (Waldai Zone).

The petitioners’ lawyers, Chepkirui Koech and Associates Advocates, filed the petition at the High Court in Kericho on Monday.

The petition has been filed against Mr Chebochok, Tegat Tea Factory Limited, Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA), Tea Board of Kenya and Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

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.

Advocate Chepkirui Koech stated in the petition that the BBC documentary exposed Mr Chebochok abusing his power and office by sexually exploiting women who worked and sought job opportunities at James Finlays Kenya.

“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.”

Despite an earlier position by IEBC that there were no complaints against Mr Chebochok’s candidature, 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.

On June 24, 2024, Tea Board of Kenya (TBK) Chief Executive Officer Willy Mutai also expressed concerns on the candidate's clearance in a letter to IEBC CEO Hussein Marjan— highlighting the potential negative repercussions on the global market for Kenyan tea.

Mr Mutai informed IEBC that the Articles of Association of Tegat Tea Factory Company Limited, under which Toror tea factory falls, demand of a director to be of good standing in the society, which Mr Chebochok’s candidature allegedly violated.

But the election was allowed to proceed leading to Mr Chebochok being elected zonal director, with Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi releasing the list of winners as declared by the IEBC. Mr Chebochok was listed as a director for Ainamoi zone.

In court filings, the petitioners aver that there is an active investigation in Kericho against the director-elect and that, under Chapter Six of the Constitution on leadership and integrity, his past conduct does not qualify him to be elected or appointed to a public office.