Alarm bells as grabbers retain illegal land titles

Karura forest in Nairobi. About 150 title deeds of parcels of land in the forest that had been illegally registered were revoked. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Hundreds of title deeds and lease documents gazetted for revocation since 2017 are still in the hands of grabbers after the Ministry of Lands delayed expunging them from the central registry.

After six years in office and colossal amounts of public funds spent on its operations, the National Land Commission (NLC) now “regrets” it was unable to deliver on one of its key mandates of implementing the Ndung’u Report on stolen land assets worth billions of shillings.

The NLC, which has been dogged by infighting and has had its chairman Mohamed Swazuri charged with corruption, blames the chief land registrar at Ardhi House for the delays.

“We have revoked so many titles in this country but the law says that when we do that, we direct the chief land registrar to expunge the titles from the central registry. We have done that but he has not been removing the revoked titles as directed,” NLC vice-chairperson Abigael Mbagaya told the Sunday Nation.

According to Ms Mbagaya, the Attorney-General had given an advisory opinion on the matter and stated that the chief land registrar must revoke the titles NLC has gazetted for revocation.

“Now they are beginning to do some of it piecemeal,” she said.

Land Cabinet Secretary Farida Karoney and Principal Secretary Dr Nicholas Muraguri did not immediately respond to our enquiries.

According to the Gazette notice of July 17, 2017 (number 6862), among those whose titles were marked for revocation were ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi, former Cabinet minister and 2017 presidential candidate Joe Nyagah, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko, former Kasarani MP John Njoroge, Kisii Senator Sam Ongeri and former Kenya’s permanent representative to Unesco George Godia.

Some of the people in the list had blamed politics for inclusion of their names in the Gazette. Mr Mudavadi, for example, said he was a tenant in the house in Woodley referred to and claims that he had grabbed it were “utter rubbish, sickening and malicious”.

There were also title deeds for Karura Forest in the city, which had been granted to individuals by the Kanu administration in the 1990s, among others.

Ownership documents for parcels in Kisumu, Kisii, Kilifi and Mombasa were also cancelled in the latest crackdown on land grabbing as were those who had encroached on Kakamega Golf Course and Club.

Karura Forest is the biggest gainer after 150 title deeds were revoked. The parcels that had been illegally registered under several companies will be returned to the Kenya Forest Service.

Failure to expunge these ownership documents implies those holding them could still pass them on to third parties, develop them, or a pliable regime could reinstate (regularise) them in the future.

But Ms Mbagaya says the owners will still find it hard to use the titles.

“Those people whose titles have been revoked by us, whether the chief land registrar expunges them or not, cannot have the particular pieces of land because they are public utility property,” the outgoing NLC vice-chairperson said.

Concerns that the holders could still be using the titles assumed extraordinary new significance early this month after the NLC set a new doctrine of cleansing illegal land transactions by directing that though it had determined a public property asset in the city had been illegally acquired by private developers, the fraudsters could pay what NLC called “market value”, and keep their loot.

The stark irony of NLC six-year term coming to an end before stolen public assets flagged for repossession are reclaimed is made worse at a time President Uhuru Kenyatta is waging a highly publicised campaign against corruption crimes by public officers.

When President Kenyatta launched the Jubilee manifesto in February 2013 at Kasarani Sports Stadium, he devoted a considerable portion of his speech to promising the country that his administration had the answer to the land question.

“For far too long, we have talked about the land question. Let’s now find the answer to that,” he said.

The double irony not only involves failure to expunge identified stolen public assets from the books, but also failure by a Jubilee majority Parliament to extend the timelines for completion of review of grants and dispositions, when the five-year legal deadlines elapsed in May 2017.

The Jubilee administration assumed power in 2013 around the same time the National Land Commission (NLC) was set up, raising hopes it would utilise new legal tools under the new constitution to send a strong message and raise the bar that pillaging of public assets by the civil servants and public officers would attract painful consequences.

President Kenyatta’s predecessor, President Mwai Kibaki, had done the heavy lifting for him, by setting up the Ndung’u Commission of Inquiry into illegal and irregular acquisition of public land assets.

The report, named after the 20-man commission chair, lawyer Paul Ndung’u, produced a monumental report of historic infamy, about how named political elite, civil service, military and state parastatal chiefs helped themselves to public land assets with impunity.

When the Ndung’u Commission released its report in 2004, it observed that the crimes of plunder committed were so monumental that taking the suspects to court would be impossible to achieve justice in realistic timelines and, instead, recommended creation of a special tribunal to address the matter.

The task of the envisaged tribunal was to review all the questionable title deeds, with a view to regularising and revoking those determined to have been irregularly and illegally processed.

The envisaged special tribunal would need new constitutional and legal tools to undertake the massive task due to the scope and complexity of the matter.

This task fell on the NLC when Parliament passed the NLC Act (2012), an independent constitutional outfit under the aegis of the new constitution and the sessional paper no 3 of 2009 (national land policy).

Despite extensive powers available to the State for the last six years, NLC has returned a dismal performance.


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