What you need to know:
- The construction of Mzuri Sweets Limited at Kwa Kadzengo along the Mombasa-Malindi highway, which was set to employ more than 1,000 people, is 80 percent complete.
- The investment, whose owner estimates to cost US$20 million (Sh2 billion), located next to a wetland, had also obtained approvals to backfill the wetland and create an artificial one which would be a recreational park.
A multi-billion-shilling investment in Kilifi county now hangs in the balance after the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) suspended the construction it had earlier approved to establish a sweet processing firm.
The construction of Mzuri Sweets Limited at Kwa Kadzengo along the Mombasa-Malindi highway, which was set to employ more than 1,000 people, is 80 percent complete.
The investment, whose owner estimates to cost US$20 million (Sh2 billion), located next to a wetland, had also obtained approvals to backfill the wetland and create an artificial one which would be a recreational park.
It would also control flooding along the highway.
But last Tuesday, Nema board chairman John Konchella, together with his team, inspected the site and ordered the construction work to stop immediately.
This is the second multi-billion-shilling project in Kilifi to suffer a blow in a span of one year after the environmental watchdog declined to approve the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report of Palm Exotja, a Sh23 billion luxury hotel and residential facility in Watamu.
According to the investor, the Mzuri Sweets Ltd was also to produce cakes and require between 200,000 and 400,000 eggs daily from the local community.
While issuing the order at the construction site, Mr Konchella said assessment had indicated that a section of the godown under construction has encroached on 30 meters of the riparian reserve.
“The backfilling of the wetland on land number LR531 had continued despite the developer being issued with an order stopping the activity on April 15, 2020; this is an activity already violating an order issued,” he said.
Mr Konchella, who was accompanied by the Nema acting director of compliance and enforcement Zephania Ouma, further ordered the investor to restore the backfilled section of the wetland to its original state within 30 days.
“Environmental inspectors in liaison with Water Resource Authority, Kenya National Highways Authority, county surveyor, and the county government of Kilifi shall undertake pegging of the wetland and the road reserve to inform the extent of encroachment of the building,” he ordered.
Mr Konchella also said the authority shall be notified to verify compliance and give further directions once these directives are met.
While clarifying why they were stopping a project which had earlier been approved after carrying out environmental impact assessment, Mr Ouma said the EIA is not a blank cheque.
“We have confirmed that a number of these conditions have not been met and that is what has led to the situation which you are seeing on the ground,” he said.
“There are things which are visible by the naked eye. We know exactly what a wetland is and this has been confirmed. A hydrological survey report was done confirming the existence of a wetland at this site,” he added.
The Nema director added that the EIA does not give a developer free will to do wrong things.
“Although the wetland has not been gazetted, the law provides Nema with the mandate to protect it. There could be an issue of property rights which we respect but the user rights have also to be controlled through the licence procedure and that is what the authority has done,” he added.
Mr Ouma said the backfilling and construction of an artificial wetland was supposed to be done with a lot of safeguards which have not been implemented.
But the developers, represented by the Mzuri Sweets Limited chief executive officer Hiten Solanki, the human resource manager George Ongany and the factory manager, insisted they had complied with Nema directives issued on April 15, 2020.
“I would like to clarify on the ''purported stop order'' issued on April 20, since it was not a stop order but an improvement notice, which we complied with and proceeded with the project,” said Mr Solanki.
The Mzuri Sweets Ltd CEO said the notice directed him to create a wetland of the same size or more than the proposed area to be backfilled.
“We created more than two-thirds of artificial wetland. The National Construction Authority (NCA) compliance was undertaken on May 7 then issued a certificate and on May 27, the Kilifi county government gave us the green light to proceed with the project,” he said.
“On March 12, WRA wrote to Nema county director saying the hydrological assessment was done in January 2020 with the sole purpose of assessing the impact of backfilling and subsequently creating an artificial swamp within the plot.”
Mr Solanki said a hydrological analysis report conducted by Watson Consultants as approved by WRA does not object to the reclamation of the wetland since its existing geographical characteristics, including the soil type, slopes and vegetation, do not qualify it as a wetland ecosystem.
“The vegetation on site is a normal occurrence in depression line surfaces where water is available,” he said.
He accused bloggers of influencing people’s emotions concerning the project without facts, thereby affecting the livelihoods of more than 1,000 people.
Mr Solanki, who also runs Mzuri Sweets sister company Umoja Rubber Ltd also in Kilifi South, said they do not have any malicious intention to spoil the land and cause flooding in the area.
“We followed the law and mitigation measures proposed by the EIA licence; we filled the wetland as per the expert report to give back to Mother Nature,” he said, adding: “We had public participation and the project enjoys the support of the local community and county government.”
Mr Solanki appealed to the Nema board of management to re-examine their directive and allow the project, which is already 80 percent complete.
“We are born Kenyans and have lived in Kilifi for years. We are here to make sure the environment is taken care of, create jobs and improve the livelihoods of the community through farming since we will require thousands of eggs daily,” he said.
The CEO said the issue of flooding the Malindi-Mombasa highway should not worry people since the artificial wetland will solve the issue since it will absorb more water.
“The road has been flooding all the years. In fact we are trying to save the highway. The artificial wetland which will have the capacity to trap more rain water, will be a beautiful recreation park open to the public,” he said.