Tea farmers and other stakeholders cab breathe a sight of relief after Chief Justice Martha Koome named a three-judge bench to determine eight cases related to recent policy changes.
The CJ has appointed Justices Anthony Mrima, Weldon Korir and Jesse Nyagah to determine the disputes involving the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA), one of which pits two sets of KTDA directors: the newly-elected team led by chairman David Ichoho Muni and the ousted group led by Peter Kanyago.
Justice Mrima on Thursday announced that the eight cases, which are divided into two clusters, can be determined before end of the year.
One cluster contains five consolidated petitions that are challenging the constitutionality of various Sections of the Tea Act, No. 23 of 2020 and the constitutionality of The Crops (Tea Industry) Regulations, 2020.
The other set has three cases touching on the ownership, management and operations of KTDA and its subsidiaries.
The two matters will be dealt with separately.
The cases were filed by various parties within the tea value chain including workers of tea factories.
On Thursday, four advocates appeared in the courtroom, instructed separately by the two sets of KTDA boards.
The legal teams
On one hand were law firms Guandaru Thuita & Company Advocates, Munyao Muthama and Kashindi Advocates and Kale Maina and Bundotich Advocates, which are instructed by the newly-elected KTDA board to represent the tea agency.
On the other side were Millimo, Muthomi & Co advocates and lawyer James Ochieng' Oduol, a senior counsel, all instructed by the ousted board.
The legal teams are also embroiled in a fight over attempts by the new board to withdraw court cases filed by the ousted management team over reforms in the tea sector. The ousted team still believes it is validly in office and that its decisions are binding, while the new team believes the contrary.
The cases were forwarded to the CJ by High Court Judge Anthony Mrima following a finding that the disputes raise substantial questions of law that can be better dealt with by an expanded bench.
The main parties in the cases include former and current KTDA board members, the Attorney-General, the National Assembly, the Cabinet secretaries for Agriculture and Interior, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, the Inspector-General of Police, the East African Tea Trade Association and the Agriculture and Food Authority.
The interested parties include the Kenya Small Tea Holders Growers Association, the Council of Governors and tea sector activist and Murang’a politician Irungu Nyakera.
In the court filings, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya contends that it is in the public interest that the Tea Act, 2020 be implemented.
He says the objective of the Act is to ensure that tea farmers get maximum profits.
“Over the years the tea farmer shouldered the cost burden of production and sale of tea while benefits are taken by middle men and brokers,” he says.
He cites Section 34 of the Act, which he says arose from the outcry of tea farmers regarding the unconscionable nature of agreements signed by their factories and KTDA as a management agent.
“The agreements are restrictive and lopsided in favour of the management agent at the expense of the tea factory by extension the tea farmer,” he says.
“The management agreements entered with KTDA are standard form contracts prepared by the Management Agent. The tea factories have no independent legal counsel to advise and to ensure that their interests are protected.”
“There is also no room for the tea factories to evaluate the performance of the management agent or to renegotiate the agreements, since they are self-renewing,” he says.
The cases are fixed for mention before the expanded bench on October 8, 2021.