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Judiciary may pay Sh350 million for unused house in Upper Hill

The Judiciary may be compelled to pay a private company more than Sh350 million for breach of a 10-year lease agreement to occupy the ultra-modern building that was tailor-made to house the Court of Appeal judges.

Sealink Holdings, the owners of Elgon Place in Nairobi’s Upper Hill, is demanding full payment of the outstanding contractual sums and vacant possession of the unoccupied premises leased by the Judiciary three years ago.

Sealink, jointly with Sentrim Contracts Ltd, have sued the Judiciary, the Chief Registrar and the Attorney-General and is urging the Environmental and Land Court to declare the defendants liable for the massive loss incurred since the Judiciary took possession of the building.

CONVERT PREMISES

Sentrim is a building construction firm that was commissioned by both Sealink and the Judiciary to convert the leased premises from a normal commercial building to one that could house judicial officers, courtrooms and holding cells.

The four-storey Elgon Place building was fitted with modern technology that allowed cases to be video recorded and had a wide range of multi-media facilities and equipment.

The premises were to house the Court of Appeal but appellate judges declined to relocate over radiation fears from transmission masts in an adjacent property.

Properly partitioned and flashy from the outside as it was inside, the building had court rooms with elegant furnishings in the first three floors fitted with cameras and large screens to enable the public to follow court proceedings in comfort.

In addition, each of the judges had elegant offices where they could retire to write judgments or use to prepare before going to court. The judges and lawyers had also access to wireless network within the premises to enable them access materials online in real time.

BIRD’S EYE VIEW

And on top of the building, there was an open space ideal for outdoor meetings and which could also be used to host evening parties or cocktails while enjoying the cool breeze and a bird’s eye view of the city and its environs.

According to Sealink’s argument, some of the judges’ chambers were designed to accommodate their personal egos and they had even visited the building when the alterations were made to satisfy their requirements.

After the Judiciary terminated the lease, Sealink lodged a claim of Sh350 million which included $1,260,458 (Sh126,045,800) for rent arrears up to March 31, 2016, Sh22 million service charge and Sh74 million for fit outs and partitioning works carried out by Sentrim.

Sealink is further seeking payment of Sh65 million being the estimated cost of restoring the premises from the current state as court rooms to a general commercial building.

The landlord also wants the Judiciary to pay $504,620 (Sh5,0462,000) and Sh7.5 million being the estimated loss of rent, service charge and parking fees respectively for the period the building remained unoccupied.

AG’s ADVICE

The suit has created panic in the Judiciary and Attorney-General Githu Muigai fears the dispute might expose the taxpayer if the Judiciary loses the court battle. He has advised the chief registrar to negotiate with Sealink for an amicable out-of-court settlement.

In a letter to the Chief Registrar of the Judiciary Anne Amadi dated June 14, 2016, by senior state counsel Wanjiku Mbiyu attaching the AG’s legal opinion, she said the suit is likely to have detrimental ramification on the part of the government.

Ms Mbiyu advises the Judiciary to find a way to avert a court judgment as the government was likely to lose taxpayers’ money should the matter be determined by the court.

“It is notable we have since not received any evidence from yourselves (Judiciary) in response to the plaintiffs’ claim. We have studied the case of Sealink and Sentrim and the evidence on record in support of the plaintiffs’ claim is strong,” said Ms Mbiyu.

She added: “It is therefore our considered opinion that this suit be negotiated without prejudice and a way found to avert a court judgment.”

Although the case filed by Sealink is coming up for mention on December 15 before Justice Samson Okong’o, the Judiciary is yet to respond to the suit.