- On October 7, 2005 High Court judge Jeanne Gacheche ruled that the government had done wrong by taking over the abattoir.
She awarded Halal Meat Products Sh1.8 billion, but ordered that the Sh27 million loan owed by the firm be deducted from the award.
It has since been a cat-and-mouse game between the Mothas and government.
One of Kenya’s forgotten scandals, the 45-year-old Halal abattoir in Ngong, has resurfaced, and the taxpayer will, once again, shoulder the Sh5.7 billion burden of the private meat venture that went terribly wrong in the 1970s.
It has emerged from court proceedings that the National Treasury could be planning to pay out the cash for the botched project that has become a case study of all that could possibly go wrong with public-private partnerships.
In this case, the government provided land for the project and a loan towards its development, but has now been slapped with the massive bill.
At the High Court in Nairobi, tycoon Mohammed Ali Motha is fighting Mr Ramadhan Juma Ali, a man claiming to be his son, and who insists on getting a slice of the anticipated Sh5.7 billion payout from the government.
The pair has every reason to be confident about the payout after Livestock Principal Secretary Harry Kimtai told a court in December last year that the payment had been approved.
Halal Meat Products had asked the High Court to jail Mr Kimtai, arguing that he had stalled the release of their award. Replying, Mr Kimtai blamed the Treasury for delaying release of the funds, saying, the Agriculture and Livestock ministry had already approved the release of the funds to Halal.
It is a story of twists and turns, exposing government lethargy, bureaucracy, ineptitude and high-handedness.
The saga is traceable back to the meat shortage of 1972 in Nairobi, when the Agriculture ministry allowed the construction of privately-owned slaughterhouses in several towns across the country to compete with the Kenya Meat Commission. Within no time, there was an influx of meat, which raised new concerns over its fitness for consumption.
To address the concerns, the Agriculture ministry ordered that any vehicle transporting meat products should have a red stripe, with the word “meat” in white, a rule that stands to-date.
City Hall had also floated the idea of having a meat inspection facility on the city’s outskirts. The idea was to have all meat products destined to Nairobi inspected at the facility before being released into the market.
Automatically, Ngong was floated as a suitable location. After all, most meat coming into Nairobi at the time was from the nearby Ongata Rongai and Waithaka village.
That is how meat tycoon Mohammed Ali Motha and his business partner Abdul Habib Adam came into the picture. Mr Adam owned the Adam’s Arcade shopping centre on Nairobi’s Ngong Road, which he had founded in 1954, to serve the white community. Mr Motha was running a butchery there.
Thus, in 1973, Mr Motha and Mr Adam approached the government for assistance in getting a loan from the East African Development Bank, saying, he had some land in Ngong on which he wanted to put up a slaughterhouse.
The abattoir, he argued, would double up as an inspection unit, hence solve the City Hall’s puzzle and ensure Nairobi residents ate certified meat, akin to the standards applicable at the Kenya Meat Commission (KMC).
Word went around that Mr Motha intended to buy 60 acres of land in Ngong to expand his business empire. This irked the El-Kejuado County Council where Ngong town fell, and it blocked the businessman's plan for a slaughterhouse and inspection unit.
But in 1974, Mr Jeremiah Nyagah, the then Agriculture minister, gave the two entrepreneurs the green light to set up an abattoir and inspection unit at a cost of Sh9.6 million.
By then, the ministry had £500,000, which the Danish International Development Agency (Danida) had given for a project, but which had failed to materialise. This money was redirected to the abattoir project — as a government-guaranteed loan. Parliament was later told that this was a scandal.
In a series of mistakes that would haunt the government later on, the two businessmen were allowed to use their Halal Meat Products Ltd as the vehicle for the project, with the government having no shareholding in it.
The company had been incorporated on December 20, 1972 with Mr Adam, Mr Motha and his wife Fatuma Tunny Motha as its directors.
Mr Motha had expressed interest in meat export especially to the Middle East and part of his strategy was to use the name “Halal” to attract the unique, predominantly Islamic market.
But on March 4, 1974, Mr Adam died at the Nairobi Hospital. Mr Motha’s wife, Fatuma, bought his stake in Halal Meat Products and the project preparations proceeded.
Land was now the only challenge, but the ministry agreed to help the company acquire some in Ngong.
But a standoff ensued in August 1974 when Commissioner of Lands James O’Loughlin asked the Department of Veterinary Sciences to surrender 20 acres for the project.
Veterinary Sciences argued that some of the diseases it was studying could cross over to the abattoir and affect cattle before they were slaughtered. After the department refused to surrender land. Mr O’Loughlin threatened to initiate government sanctions against it.
Veterinary Sciences then proposed to surrender six acres. This was not enough, and Mr O’Loughlin demanded that the acreage be doubled. The Commissioner of Lands wanted more land so that a buffer zone could be created to reduce the risk of infection of the animals. Eventually Veterinary Services agreed to give 10 acres. It later gave another 1.5 acres to allow sewerage construction.
Within two weeks, a title deed had been processed for Mr Motha and Mr Adam. This was curious considering the laborious process usually took months.
The Agriculture ministry then released Sh27.701 million loan to Halal Meat Products Limited.
The company hit the ground running and hired Inter-Africa Construction Company to put up the abattoir.
Construction started towards the end of 1974 and took four years. Equipment worth Sh11.34 million was shipped into Kenya from Denmark, tax-free, on the assumption that it was the government importing and not a private company.