Sat. Apr 20th, 2019

Solai dam victims yet to find justice eight months later

Eight months after the Solai Dam tragedy that killed 48 people occurred, questions still linger on whether it was an act of God or a human error.

The victims are yet to get justice even as they struggle to recover from the tragedy that left an indelible mark in their lives.

From families who lost their loved ones to those that lost property, what is now left are traces of a once complete village.

Before the tragedy, Energy and Nyakinyua were just sleepy villages. But this has changed. To date, the damage is still visible.

From eroded land to half-standing buildings. Residents are now used to unfamiliar faces visiting the village, some in big cars and others in public service vehicles.

“Some come to see the dams in the area while others come to assess the infrastructural damage left behind by the water,” a resident said.

Months after the disaster, politicians started flocking to Solai, Nakuru County. Even before the dust had settled, the area became a target for some politicians from Nakuru.

Some started giving false promises as they sought political mileage. Political rifts emerged as groups took various stands on compensation of the victims, who are yet to settle down.

Some local administrators were accused of selling donations from well-wishers

According to Kabazi MCA Mbae, the victims risk being forgotten. Dr Mbae said efforts to hold negotiations with Mr Perry Mansukhlal Kansagra, the owner of the dam that burst, have been futile.

“When the victims requested to meet with the Patels through their family lawyer, they said we should meet in court,” the MCA said.

According to Dr Mbae, although the Patels claim they are avoiding contact with the victims since the case is already in court, they have been making donations to some victims.

“We shall be moving to court in January to compel the family to give full compensation to the victims,” he added.

“We really appreciate efforts by the Kenya Red Cross Society in trying to reconstruct Solai, but what will happen to the remaining families? It is a sad affair.”

In June, a fact finding mission by the Parliamentary Committee on Environment and Natural Resources at Milment Solai farm did not bare any fruit after the management failed to produce documentation.

In the same month, members of the Senate ad-hoc committee made a tour to the expansive Patel farm to inspect the dams.

The committee members led by Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jnr were accompanied by engineers from the Water Resource Management Authority (WRMA). Surprisingly, none of the reports from the findings has ever been made public.

Several legal attempts instituted by various quarters and agencies towards the reconstruction of lives as well as restoration of the ecosystems disrupted by the tragedy are still pending before the courts.

Dr Mbae was the first to move to court a month after the calamity.

Through Gordon Ogolla and Kipkoech Advocates, Dr Mbae sued National Environment Management Authority (Nema), WRMA, the National Water Conservation and Pipeline Corporation, Tindress Patel Coffee Estates and Salt Manufacturers Company.

He sought orders to compel Nema to conduct environmental impact assessment of the dams.

He also wanted the dam owner compelled to restore the ecosystem within his farm in Solai after the assessment.

The Law Society of Kenya and the National Environment Complaints Committee were enjoined as interested parties.

In the latest development, the court has allowed Dr Mbae to amend his petition to include the findings and the recommendations of the report by the Senate team ahead of the hearing on May 6, 2019.

In a separate case, nine individuals including the two owners of the killer dam have been charged at a Naivasha court in connection with the deaths. They are out on Sh5 million bond each after they denied the charges.

On October 2, the High Court turned down a request by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to have the criminal case transferred from Naivasha to Nairobi.

DPP Noordin Haji had claimed that the scene of the crime had been interfered with and witnesses threatened.

Justice Richard Mwongo, while dismissing the application, said there was no evidence to back the claims. The full hearing is yet to begin.

The victims have sued the government and the farm proprietor for compensation over infringement of their rights by various State departments, which they say failed to assess the safety of the dam.