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The High Court has sentenced Meru County Finance Executive to three months in jail for contempt of court for failing to pay a Sh500 million debt owed by the county to a French hotelier.

Justice Thripsisa Cherere also fined the official Sh200,000 and issued a warrant of arrest against the CEC.

However, there was confusion over who would serve the sentence after it emerged that Monica Kathono, whom the court had summoned to serve the sentence, had been transferred in a reshuffle.

Lawyer Mark Ashaba told the court that Ms Kathono had been replaced and therefore could not be in court for the sentencing, while the new one could not be reached.

In a hard-hitting ruling, the judge said although Mr Ashaba had failed to convince the court that Ms Kathono had been transferred, the orders were against the office holder and not a specific individual.

“The orders herein were made against the officer holding the position of CEC Finance and whether newly appointed or not, he has no option but to comply and failure to do so is punishable by law,” she ruled.

The court had on 27 June 2022 ordered Meru County to pay Leopard Rock Mico Limited – the owners of Leopard Rock Lodge – Sh445 million within 30 days.

This was after an arbitrator in 2019 found the Meru government liable for illegally evicting the company from its prime hotel property in Meru National Park.

After the county government failed to show any commitment to honour the arbitration award, hotelier Michael Dechauffour went to court seeking an order to compel the Meru government to pay the compensation.

On August 31, 2022, he applied for the CEC Finance to be jailed for contempt of court, and after hearing the case, the court found the official guilty of contempt.

When Ms Kathono was sentenced on 20 July this year, her lawyers appealed for the sentence to be suspended and promised to pay the amount, which has now reached Sh500 million.

The court suspended the CEC’s sentence, giving her until 31 July 2023 to purge the contempt by paying the debt. The court adjourned the new sentencing date to 21 September if the contempt was not cleared.

By September 21, the County Government had paid only Sh20 million of the Sh500 million and requested more time for the parties to agree on a payment plan for the balance.

By October 12, however, no payment plan had been submitted and the court found that the respondents had not shown good faith in their handling of the matter.

The judge ordered Ms Kathono to appear in court on 9 November for sentencing, but the CEC did not attend as she had accompanied Governor Kawira Mwangaza to the Senate impeachment hearing.

The matter was adjourned to yesterday, where lawyer Ashaba argued that Ms Kathono was no longer the CEC’s finance officer.

He asked for more time for the new CEC to familiarise himself with the matter and also to submit a payment plan.

However, lawyer Peter Wanyama opposed the application, arguing that the matter had taken a long time and that by failing to submit a payment plan, the respondents had not shown seriousness in settling the matter.

He noted that the court had been gracious in granting numerous adjournments in favour of the respondents.

“The record in this matter shows that the third respondent has shown wilful defiance and disrespect for court orders and continues to refuse to comply despite the leniency of the applicant and the court.

“Court orders must be obeyed. Parties against whom such orders are made cannot be allowed to disregard them with impunity. Obedience to the court is not optional, it is mandatory,” ruled Justice Cherere.

 

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