On Thursday 16th July, 2020 the Environment and Land Court sitting in Mombasa delivered a landmark judgement in favour of the residents of Owino Uhuru in Mombasa where the petitioners were awarded ksh. 1.3 billion. The suit was aggressively defended and for a long time, the petitioners were doubtful of a favourable judgement let alone 1.3 billion shillings. The petition no. 51 of 2010 was filed by Phyllis Omido, in a representative suit on behalf of the Owino Uhuru residents following the residents testing positive for lead poisoning.
The case came about as a result of the negligence of various government agencies responsible for land and environment including the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). It was deposed that an abandoned battery refinery was depositing lead silts that seeped into the residence and it’s environs. Several thousand individuals were affected and several others succumbed to their lead poisoning related diseases.
The case dragged in court for nearly a decade and along the way, some of the petitioners died meaning that if the government obliges and pays, only their beneficiaries shall benefit. The residents were also happy with the ruling but we’re quick to add that no amount of money could return their loved ones that they lost, or heal those that have been maimed. It will however go a long way in ensuring that the lives of those who were affected, are made a little easier. Many of the petitioners were in wheelchairs and crutches from complications arising from lead poisoning.
Centre for Justice Governance and Environmental Action CEO Phyllis Omido couldn’t hide her happiness but she was quick to warn that the journey has just started.
“I thank the people for standing firm as they fought for justice. It is a journey and it has just began. We have lost so many people from this lead poisoning and we thank God that our prayers have been answered,” she said.
She also indicated that it is challenging now more than ever because of the complexities at the office of the Attorney General where execution of the court decree ought to start. She argued that the court should come in and assist to ensure that the litigants enjoy the fruits of their petition by compelling the government to honour and adhere to the orders.
Controversy is already brewing however because the petitioners are uncertain of how the money will be shared. Ordinarily, only parties to a suit have the capacity to benefit or their estates and beneficiaries in their absence. In the case of Owino Uhuru, the parties were a handful of residents and majority just came in as parties and not witnesses. Other parties withdrew after receiving threats and fled in fear of their lives.
The decree also instructed the respondents mainly the Attorney General, the land ministry along with its agencies to undertake reclamation and clean up Owino Uhuru and make it safe for occupation by the residents some of whom have any known that as their home. The government was found to be culpable for neglecting to undertake cleaning and treatment procedures upon the battery manufacturing plant owned by EPZ went under. Execution against the government is a very tasking exercise and it might take another couple year for the petitioners to enjoy the fruits of their petition. Justice will be delayed and shall not be seen to have been done albeit the favourable judgement by the land and environment Court.
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