A Kenyan contractor is locked in a tussle with the Qatar embassy over payment for renovations to the ambassador’s residence in Nairobi. For three years now, he has been hoping to be paid for work done for the embassy in vain.
Mr Benard Odongo Obunga, 48, says through his firm Benedies Construction, he had worked for the embassy of Qatar on various projects involving renovations, and duly paid in full, and on time upon completion of the projects.
In 2018 his firm was contracted for work at the embassy and the diplomatic residence.
“From my previous interactions with the embassy, I would give a quotation detailing the price and materials I needed for a project. The quotation would then be sent to their office in Doha. Once approved, a deposit of 50 per cent of the total price would be paid, and the project would start immediately. This time, the quotation was for a total of Sh8.3 million,” Mr Odongo says.
Following the approval, Mr Odongo presented five 3D demonstrations to the deputy in charge of the embassy, who approved one of the prototypes.
The agreement signed by the two parties on January 25, 2018 stipulated that the construction would be complete in 60 working days.
Going by the agreement, Benedies Construction was required to build two rooms above the ambassador’s garage and a gazebo that would consist of a dining area, a lounge area, a washroom and a cloak room.
And, the payment, according to the contract, would be done in three phases: 50 per cent first payment, 25 per cent for the second phase, and another 25 per cent for finishing.
At the beginning of the project, Mr Odongo received a down payment of Sh4 million and he started the project.
“The plan required that we first demolish the balcony at the top of the garage, and construct two rooms for use by domestic workers. We then constructed a fabricated metal staircase to lead up to the rooms,” explains Mr Odongo.
In the course of the project, a new ambassador, Mr Jabr Bin Ali Al-Dosari, was posted to the station.
Mr Odongo says several variations were introduced to the project plans.
Rooms at the top of garage were no longer desired, the balcony was moved to the back, and metal spindles were not to be used.
That meant the contractor had to demolish the rooms and the staircase, at the embassy’s cost, and wait for about two weeks for the new plan that the ambassador wanted. The desired building materials were to be imported and took almost a month.
Other alterations, according to Mr Odongo, were made to the gazebo, including a kitchen. That, he argues, meant another 45-day wait for arrival of new roofing material, with little time left in the 60-day contract period.
There was another inclusion of a water tower and last-minute changes to flooring material — the initial quotation had wooden Belgian floor, but the contractor was asked to switch to a granite floor.
But since the ambassador went to Doha for three weeks, they had to wait for his approval.
“At this time, it had become apparent that the finishing would be delayed, so I drafted a letter to the ambassador and his deputy asking for an extension of the completion period,” says Mr Odongo.
“My payment for the second phase had been duly paid by the embassy accountant through a bank transfer, and I then needed money to ensure that the finishing was done,” he adds.
Penalty for delays
But Mr Odongo says he was told he needed to complete the project by April 16, 2018 and that any delay of the project would attract a 0.3 per cent penalty from the total cost of the project and any accompanying damages.
Although he expressed commitment to complete the project by the set date, Mr Odongo says the payment was never done.
Broke, and the project incomplete, he says he approached Platinum Credit for a loan. In return, he gave them his Toyota Estima station wagon logbook as collateral and received a loan of Sh270,000. This saw the completion of the project, which he handed over on June 25, 2018 with the completion letter.
He reached out to his lawyers to follow up on his payment. They wrote to the embassy’s legal team, Garane and Somane advocates.
In response, they said the project had delayed for 72 days, and that it had accrued penalty of Sh1, 799,280. They demanded a total of Sh1,929,391.20 from him inclusive of expenses incurred by the embassy to repair the electric fencing system the contractor was accused of damaging.
Mr Odongo sought the intervention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In a letter addressed to the permanent secretary on October 16, 2018, the contractor details that the embassy owes him Sh2,143,000.
“The Foreign Affairs legal team promised to settle the matter and assured me then that I would get my money,” he says.
A year later, nothing had happened and frustrated, Mr Odongo asked the ministry to give him back his file.
“For three weeks, I followed up on my file until I gave up on it. It had some of my original documents. I even asked them to just give me copies of it, but was unsuccessful.”
In December last year, Odongo hired another lawyer from Musyoka Shikumo and Associates Advocates. Mr Dennis Musyoka, the lawyer, says he wrote a demand letter to the embassy, asking them to clear the dues.
“Around February this year, the embassy’s legal team reached out and scheduled a meeting with us. On the same day, they made a promise that Odongo’s payment would be made soon after. We waited for a month, then sent an email to follow up. Till now, we have not received any response,” says the lawyer.
An advocate from the Foreign Affairs legal team who sought anonymity confirmed that he indeed handled the issue, but explained that the ministry did all it could to help Odongo.
“We have no right to compel the embassy to pay clients they contracted themselves. What we do is mediate between the conflicting parties. We have dealt with such issues before — some are successful, and some are not, because there is never a guarantee when it comes to negotiation,” says the advocate.
When Nation emailed the embassy about the matter, Mr Julius Olaha from Garane and Somane advocates responded.
“First and foremost, we are at pains to comprehend what colour of right you have in the matter considering the rules of privacy of contract …” the advocate responded. “… We are unable to accede to your questions and request for reply for reason that the same amount to blackmail and extortion of our client for which we are ready to vehemently defend.”
He continued: “The said individual was in breach of the contract the subject of the foregoing, having failed to perform his obligations under the said agreement, and that is the position of our client.”
He further stated that should Nation publish the story, their client had instructed that they take appropriate legal action against the writer and attendant costs for criminal libel. “We will similarly proceed to lodge a complaint against you with the Media Council Complaints Commission,” said Mr Olaha.
“I would have gone to court, but now I do not have the money. With Covid-19, there has been no business, and as we speak, my children have no school fees. Three of them, including my late brother’s orphan, are stuck at home, and the school won’t allow her back without the fees. I only want my money,” cries Mr Odongo.