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We were tricked into signing for a token - Patel Dam victims

Patel Farm General Manager Vinoj Jayakumar (right) during a meeting with Solai Dam victims on June 28. [Harun Wathari, Standard]

At least 158 victims of the Solai tragedy have signed agreements with the management of the Patel Dam, even as investigation into the matter continues.

Forty-seven people died and hundreds were left homeless when the dam, located within the Patel farm, burst in May.

According to the discharge and indemnity documents signed between 158 victims and Kensalt Limited, on behalf of the dam owners, victims of the tragedy shall not make any claims, and the farm owners are not obligated to make any settlements.

“Both the dischargee and dischargor are now mutually agreeable that none of the parties hereto, were responsible for the natural disaster that befell the Milmet Dam and its environs on 9th May 2018,” reads a section of the agreement.

Locals, however, now claim that management of the dam and senior Government officials did not give them time to read the agreement, and neither did they explain what it entailed.

Cash token

They claim that prior to signing the document, management had informed them that they would receive some cash token.

“We were not allowed to read through the document. Mansukh Patel had offered to give us some money as a way of consoling us,” said the victims’ vice chairperson Stephen Mwangi.

Mansukh is the owner of the killer dam.

Isaac Kuria, a teacher who lost his two-year-old son in the tragedy, told The Standard they were reluctant after learning they were to sign a document without reading it.

He said a local politician and senior Government officials, who were locked in a meeting at the assistant deputy county commissioner’s offices with victims’ representatives and the dam’s management, further convinced them that the money was a token.

“Management claimed reading would waste time. They also offered to show locals where to sign,” he claimed.

Kuria was first given a cheque of Sh100,000 but did not sign for it. He was later convinced by a member of the clergy to sign the document.

“I read a section and refused to sign it, but the clergyman told me to pick the money and that God would help me heal,” he said.

Patel Farm General Manager Vinoj Jayakumar, while meeting with the victims, maintained that money given to victims was a token meant to console the families and not compensation.

However, the agreement states that victims voluntarily acknowledge and accept a sum of money issued by Kensalt Limited and further stops the aggrieved families from seeking any further claims from the Patel dam owners, putting into jeopardy ongoing plans to sue the dam owners over the legality and location of the dam.

In a meeting with the victims’ representatives held last Thursday, Jayakumar said Mansukh had agreed to give them some cash token as consolation for the losses, but remained reluctant to state the amount.

“The only information I have is about issuance of a token. God will help what to do next,” he said.

Jayakumar said the money would be awarded to the victims in six categories, including those who died, the injured, those who lost businesses, and individuals who had permanent and semi-permanent houses.

Individuals who worked at the Patel farm but also lost property in the tragedy, were also shortlisted as beneficiaries.

A source at the farm said at least 158 families received the money. There were 223 profiled by the State.

The agreement further states that victims were not induced to sign the agreement.

“I confirm that I shall not be entitled to a cancellation or revocation of this deed on any grounds whatsoever, and I further hereby certify that I have read and understood this document, its purpose and its true effect thereof, and that the signatures on this document are mine,” concludes the agreement.

Isaac Muna, a resident who lost his wife Nancy Muthoni, said it was unfortunate that they were hoodwinked into signing the agreement under the watch of Government officials.

Hostile management

“I feel cheated. It is true I signed the indemnity, but I was not allowed time to read it. The local administrators and management were hostile and made us to sign,” said Muna.

However, County Commissioner Joshua Nkanatha distanced himself from the allegations on grounds he did not know about the agreement and that neither had he received communication from Mansukh.

“The only money I know is Sh50,000 from the national government. Management was, however, on the ground the day I issued the cheques,” he said, referring to the farm’s owners.

Nkanatha said he handed over the cheques to the families at Solai, adding that it was from a Sh1 billion kitty for flood victims.

“The event was mine, but management hijacked it to come talk to locals. What they spoke on, I do not know; neither do I know about the agreement,” said the commissioner.