Legal fight for e-Citizen portal billions deepens
The High Court has rejected the plea by Webmasters Kenya to be excluded from a lawsuit involving the fight for control of revenue from e-Citizen users.
Justice Mary Kasango observed that Webmasters Kenya owns and administers the integrated government service platform known as e-citizen, on which another firm Goldrock Capital had moved to court claiming service fees.
Goldrock Capital Limited, which runs e-Citizen’s mobile money payment account, sued the Treasury in 2017 for denying it access to the platform’s M-Pesa paybill number and enjoined Webmasters Kenya and Webmasters Africa as parties.
“The court in my view would be hard pressed to determine Goldrock’s claim in the absence of the party who owns the service.
“It is for that reason that I am in agreement with the respondent’s submission that Webmasters Kenya is a necessary party in this action,” said Justice Kasango.
The State contracted Webmasters Kenya to develop eCitizen portal in 2013 with funding from the World Bank’s private lending arm International Finance Corporation and other donors.
The scope of the work involved integrating a payment system into the platform, and Goldrock says through Webmasters Africa it was approached to offer a mobile financial solution.
The firm through a paybill number collected the funds which it remitted to treasury.
Treasury, however, later disowned Goldrock saying the exchequer did not give permission to any private firm to collect funds on its behalf.
Treasury Secretary Henry Rotich in July 2016 blocked Goldrock from accessing the paybill, prompting it to sue, seeking convenient fees amounting to Sh127.8 million.
A Mr James Ayugi admitted that he is a principal shareholder and chief executive of both companies but insists that they are separate legal entities. He sought one of the firms, Webmasters Kenya, excused from the suit.
He argued that Webmasters is a stranger to the subcontracting deal, despite admitting to having negotiated a contract for eCitizen funds collection with Goldrock on behalf of Webmasters Africa.
The court in its ruling also declined to expunge from record documents that Webmasters Kenya had raised issues about, which include copies of contracts it signed with the World Bank before setting up eCitizen.