The High Court has ordered the government to compensate 4,600 fishermen in Lamu Sh1.76 billion for losses occasioned by the ongoing construction of multi-billion-shilling Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (Lapsset) project.
A four-judge bench sitting in Malindi on Monday ordered the government to make the payments within a year from the date of the judgment.
Justices Pauline Nyamweya, Joel Ngugi, Beatrice Jaden and John Mativo said the locals were entitled to full and prompt compensation for the loss of their traditional fishing rights.
“Failure or delay to compensate them is unfair, discriminatory and a gross violation of their rights to their traditional fishing right and their right to earn a living,” said the judges.
The ruling follows a case lodged in 2012 by fishermen, led by Mr Mohamed Ali Baadi, in which they challenged the Vision 2013 project.
They argued that they were neither consulted nor compensated like land owners despite the project affecting the environment and their cultural and fishing rights.
The fishermen, who presented environmental experts to testify in the case, said the ongoing dredging in the Indian Ocean had destroyed mangrove forests, sea grass, and coral reefs which are fish and turtle nesting areas.
In their ruling, the judges found out that the government had failed to carry out strategic environmental assessment before embarking on the individual components of the project.
The court further found out that the government failed to adhere to the rules of Nema’s Environmental Impact Assessment Licence, which required it to compensate the local fishermen and provide them with fishing gear and modern landing site.
“The project proponents failed to adhere to the EIA Licence, which clearly requires the ministry of Infrastructure and energy to develop a detailed Environmental Monitoring and Management Plan (EMMP) for the first three berths for the proposed Lamu Port,” they said.
In this regard, the court directed that the EIA Licence be returned to Nema for further action in accordance to the judgment.
The judges said the government violated the petitioners’ right to culture by failing to draw up a management plan to preserve Lamu Island as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) world heritage site.
“Failure to have prior consultation with the indigenous community on Lamu Island about the potential cultural impacts of the Lapsset project on the culture of Lamu Island was a violation of the petitioners’ right to culture…,” said the judges.
The court directed the government to involve the petitioners and other residents of Lamu Island in the project.
The government, the judges said, should also explain the impact of the project to the locals’ culture and how to mitigate them.
“That the government is hereby directed to draw up a management plan to preserve Lamu Island as a Unesco World Heritage site as requested by various declarations by Unesco within a year from today,” they said.
At the same time, the judges directed Attorney-General Paul Kariuki to file a report in court on the progress of drawing up a management plan to preserve Lamu Island as a Unesco heritage site within six months.
The court also ordered the national government to ensure Lamu county government and other government agencies are involved in the Lapsset project.
The judges also ordered the government to pay for costs of the petitioner’s witnesses and experts.