Hotel dream left me in red, says ‘Double M’ boss Mary Mwangi

Looking outside the window from the first floor office of Mary Mwangi, the director of Express Connections, you get a glimpse of the business empire she heads.

Beyond the compound’s tall gates, numerous of the company’s purple “Double M” buses are parked in a yard not too far from view. Vehicles come in and out of a petrol station occupying a section of the property beyond the fence. On Kangundo Road, which is a stone-throw away, vehicles race up and down.

In a few days, Mrs Mwangi might lose this office and the 4.37 acres of land it sits on. For good.

As per an auctioneer’s notice that has run on two consecutive Mondays, Express Connections will lose this property at the fall of the hammer on October 5.

“Erected on the land parcel are two office blocks, a go-down used as a garage, a cafeteria building, an ablution block, a generator house and a sentry, two containers … part of the property constitutes a petrol station,” reads the notice from Philips International Auctioneers. “Auction is on Tuesday October 5 at our offices along Kandara Road.”

But it will not go without a fight.

Speaking to the Sunday Nation in her office on Friday, as the news about the pending auction circulated far and wide, Mrs Mwangi was resolute about two things. One, that the Double M buses are not part of the collateral that a local bank is after.

“Passengers have no need to worry,” she said.

‘Double M’  bus./File | Nation Media Group

Two, that it is not due to mismanagement that an auctioneer had to be called into her property. Rather, it is what she called a “chain of frustrations”.

The short story is that she used the property as collateral to obtain a loan for a parcel of land in Mavoko where the seller was to build a hotel targeting Jomo Kenyatta International Airport users. She already had a name for the hotel — Sir John — in honour of her husband John Mwangi who died in 2011. But when the 80-room, four-storey building was completed, she realised that it was built so shoddily that it was unusable.

There were cracks all over. The issue ended up before an arbitrator who found that the contractor breached an agreement signed to govern selling the property and building the hotel on it. As such, they were ordered to refund Mrs Mwangi’s company Sh216.2 million plus interest.

The company has been challenging that award since 2019. As they tussle in court, time has caught up with Mrs Mwangi and the bank that loaned her for the hotel has grown impatient, ordering auctioneers to go after the Kangundo Road property.

So, this has nothing to do with her unsuccessful campaigns to be the Embakasi East MP? Mrs Mwangi vied for the position in 2013 and 2017. Conjecture is that she burnt business money in campaigns.

“What people don’t know is that even when my husband was alive, I vied for a position in Gachoka constituency. I feel like people are insensitive,” she replied.

Her desire to be an lawmaker, she noted, is to ensure she articulates matters concerning the transport industry, which “no MP has ever addressed”.

“What I have been doing (bus transport) has had no representation at all, and that is why we go from bad to worse in the industry,” she explained.

Mrs Mwangi’s had a grand dream for the hotel, which is now a nightmare. Her experience is an indictment on government systems, especially those that govern approval and supervision of new buildings.

On August 21, 2016 when the Sunday Nation first reported on the matter, she had just instituted legal proceedings against the developer, Easy Properties Limited, whose director is Pamela Bwari.

At the end of that process three years later, it was a resounding win for Mrs Mwangi before lawyer Allen Gichuhi, the arbitrator who handled the matter. Before making his 115-page verdict, Mr Gichuhi had an expert assess the building.

“The building is not fit for occupation or purchase and the agreement for sale dated October 10, 2012 be and is hereby rescinded for breach of contract,” he said in his verdict of October 22, 2019.

“Express Connections Limited is awarded the following sums together with interest,” he noted, then explained why Mrs Mwangi’s company had to be paid Sh216 million in three different batches. A batch of Sh168 million and another of Sh10.2 million had interest accruing from March 2015 while the final batch of Sh38 million had interest accruing from the date the verdict was issued.

Mr Gichuhi ordered that as soon as Easy Properties finished the payment, Mrs Mwangi’s company would then transfer back the property and the defective building to Easy Properties — which would basically be reversing the purchase.

But Easy Properties were aggrieved. They challenged Mr Gichuhi’s verdict at the High Court, where they also lost. A few days ago, on September 7, Justice John Mativo dismissed a case by Easy Properties and affirmed Mr Gichuhi’s decision. “The final award delivered by the Hon Arbitrator, Advocate Allen Waiyaki Gichuhi, be and is hereby recognised and adopted as a judgment of this court,” the judge ordered.

Mrs Mwangi, however, had little time to celebrate because that following Monday, the first advertisement about the intended auction ran in the newspaper.

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