Narok County kicks out Equity Bank from Masai Mara fee collection deal


(Posted 26th June 2013)

Details were received overnight that the Narok County government has unilaterally cancelled the 7 year deal the previous Narok County Council had entered into with Equity Bank for the collection of gate fees for the Masai Mara Game Reserve, which is managed by Narok, not the Kenya Wildlife Service.

The deal, which at the time caused considerable controversy over allegations and counter allegations, appeared to have settled down after the initial hullabaloo, as the bank invested in equipment at the gates using smart card technology for the collection of gate fees. Initial results indicated that indeed the collections went up significantly, suggesting that a major racket has been in place before to defraud the council of revenues, and those affected resorted on several occasions to violence, destroying gate posts, the equipment and the data transmission set up, while also blocking roads keeping tourists as quasi hostages. Some in fact resorted to threats against this correspondent for reporting on the situation and the circumstances as per stakeholder information received at the time, not preventing further reports though along the same lines.

It is understood that the bank is presently reviewing their legal options to sue for unjustified termination and claim substantial damages from the county government for loss of the 7 percent transaction commission as well as other fees for the remainder of the contract duration.

Tour operators with credit on their smart cards allowing them to pay for the entrance fees of their cars, guides and tourists, have also expressed their frustration over the changed circumstances, claiming to have as a group hundreds of thousands of Kenya Shillings tied up in smart cards they can now no longer use while others who early this week still purchased the cards from the bank’s Narok offices equally complained about being duped into spending money on the cards but on arrival at the gates to find out that cash was required, raising questions on the ways and means this change was implemented.

A source close to the bank said in a late message last evening that: ‘The bank, from what I know, insists that the termination of the contract is illegal and the laid down procedures for termination were not followed. They are looking at their options to resolve the matter through amicable discussions or else use the law to protect their position’. In a further twist, it may be recalled that the former KWS Executive Director Dr. Julius Kipng’etich join the bank last year as Chief Operating Officer following his resignation from the Kenya Wildlife Service, this may be opening the spectrum of renewed rivalry since in the past KWS and Narok County did not always see eye to eye over the management of the reserve and other issues. For sure, not the best advertisement again for Kenya as it is once more the tourists who were taking the broad side of the fall out with many of them now seeking a refund of the fees ‘injected’ into smart cards only to find them worthless on arrival at the gates. Watch this space.

One Response

  1. One senior stake holder representative, wishing to remain unnamed, has sent in his observations and in the interest of a fuller picture I am publishing a sanitized version to conceal his identity:

    Start quote:
    ‘While I do not wish to comment on the legal aspects of this dispute between Narok County and Equity Bank (I am not privy to the details), I would like to point out an erroneous aspect in your story as reported.

    I have been involved in this matter since stakeholders were informed early in the week of the impending fall-out.

    The Country Government of Narok was concerned about how to handle the needs of their key customers (associated) under the umbrella of KATO. A key concern was about the fate of pre-loaded and unused smartcards and I can report for a fact that all validly loaded smartcards are being honoured by the County Government of Narok. One however needs to present proof of payment to Equity Bank.

    (On checking back with two sources I could reach on the fast track to verify their story again, THAT was exactly the problem with them as they could not instantly provide proof and were thus denied the use of the card and had to pay cash, which in one case almost depleted the funds at hand)

    Several visitor movements have taken place on the smartcard and Narok County is handling this particular aspect very well – under the circumstances.

    (Clearly they need to do better than just ‘well’)

    The issue of “tourists taking the broadside of the fall out” and “tour operators ending up with worthless smartcards” is therefore (to the best of my knowledge) not true …. ‘

    End quote

    (While those affected, and having complained to me, may well get a refund at a later stage, at that particular moment in time the cards were actually worthless, at least in their mind)

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