A decision by Mombasa County Government to increase property rates from January this year and to amend a Valuation Roll has been suspended.
Justice Sila Munyao of the Environment and Land Court also issued an interim order restraining the county government from demanding or invoicing in any manner from any ratepayers in the county on the alleged Valuation Roll.
The orders which will remain in force until March 11 were issued pending inter-parte hearing of an application by lawyers in Mombasa under the auspices of Mombasa Law Society, North Coast Ratepayers & Residents Association and Mr Francis Kariuki who have sued the devolved unit.
According to the petitioners, the county government has increased taxes based on the alleged valuation roll of 2011 on land in disregard of the constitution and the Public Finance Management Act No 18 of 2012.
They argue that the county government is determined to proceed with the 'illegal and arbitrary' process of selling the properties belonging to defaulters pursuant to the increments and has invited bids from auctioneering firms interested in the sale of the properties.
The petitioners say the alleged new property valuations have caused an increase of the rates payable in some cases by over 400 per cent or four times the rates paid in 2019.
"This resulting increment of property rates as a result of the increased valuation is unreasonable and arbitrary in the light of the difficult economic conditions that the Mombasa County is currently undergoing," argue the petitioners.
In their suit, the petitioners say the county government through the Kenya Gazette Notice No. 338 published in the Kenya Gazette Vol.CXXII No.9 of January 17 2020 issued pursuant to the Rating Act increased the rates effective January 1 and payable by March 31 2020.
According to the petitioners, the county government issued a correction published in the Kenya Gazette Notice No 922 of February 7 2020 indicating increment of rates.
"The rates in the first and second notices are based on the unimproved site values in the alleged 2011 valuation roll," argues the petitioners who are also seeking a declaration that the schedule to the Mombasa County Finance Act 2019 increasing the rates be declared unconstitutional.
They claim that the county government has denied citizens the right to public participation and contravened the principles set out in the Mombasa County Public Participation Act and the Constitution.
"The arbitrary and sudden increase of rate vide the alleged valuation roll of 2011 has negatively impacted the legitimate expectation of rate payers regarding the predictability and certainty of taxes," argues the petitioners.
They say that the assessment report of the socio-economic impact of the operationalisation of the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway on Mombasa indicate that the county is experiencing massive job losses and closure of businesses due to economic downturn which has had a ripple effect in the entire county.
"The respondent has failed to consult the national government regarding the high property rates increase made during an economic downturn," the petitioners say.
They also allege that the county government has circumvented the hearing of ratepayer's objections to the valuation roll by failing to establish an independent and impartial tribunal to hear and determine the objections and proceeded to increase the rates.
They are seeking an order to quash the decisions of the county government to increase the rates which were published in the Gazette Notices.
They also want a declaration that the Valuation Roll 2011 referred in the Gazette Notices which were issued under the Rating Act Cap 267 and Valuation for Rating Act Cap 266 is unlawful.
The application has been fixed for hearing on March 11.