Ardhi House cartels frustrate land reforms

Lands Cabinet Secretary Prof Jacob Kaimenyi has come face to face with vicious cartels at Ardhi House, who are resisting wide ranging reforms aimed at weeding out entrenched corruption in land transactions.

Sources say Kaimenyi’s efforts to set up an implementation committee to execute recommendations of a task force report to sort out the mess in the processing of leases had come up against fierce resistance by entrenched wheeler dealers out to scuttle reforms at Ardhi House.

In hindsight, it would appear Prof Kaimenyi was well aware of the kind of resistance which lay ahead as the ministry set out to implement the report of the task force.

When receiving the task force report on September 19 at his board room, Prof Kaimenyi told his officers they had let him and the country down by rendering shoddy services to the public as captured in the report.

IMPLELEMNT REFORMS

“Some of you have let me and the country down. The taxpayer expects better from us. The mwananchi is the master and we are the servants, not benefactors,” the CS was reported as telling the mandarins at the closed-door function.

But, as he sets out to implement the proposed reforms, Prof Kaimenyi’s efforts to modernise land transactions and shield property owners from entrenched land sharks are however facing resistance from bureaucrats entrusted with the task to effect the reforms.

The task force to investigate the status of leases issued since promulgation of the new Constitution in 2010 was set up in March and submitted its report two weeks with radical recommendations among them a five-year moratorium on processing of leases to give the public and investors space to resolve irregularities that have resulted in confusion regarding the status of their properties especially in urban centres.

Following a directive by the CS for an implementation committee to be set up as recommended by the task force report, mandarins at Ardhi House are reported to have flooded the committee with 20-odd members, swamping the four nominees of the National Land Commission and other state agencies, stoking fears the intention was to sabotage the committee and abort its business.

REPORT

At the public launch of the task force report presided over by Principal Secretary, Dr Nicholas Muraguri, the media was denied access to copies of the task force report, a departure from common practice involving launch of public documents.

Prof Kaimenyi was absent from the event, having travelled to Meru as part of a government delegation to receive President Uhuru Kenyatta during a tour of the region.

At the centre of the focus of the task force appointment was a flurry of forceful evictions and audacious land grabs and violent evictions of owners of properties whose leases were issued about 100 years ago and whose leasehold had expired in the last five years especially in Nairobi.

Cartels at Ardhi House pounced on unsuspecting land owners with eviction orders from courts after effecting ownership transfers at Ardhi House often without the knowledge  of land owners or notice of elapsed leasehold.

KEY FEATURE

A key feature of the recommendations of the task force chaired by former chairman of the Institution of Surveyors of Kenya (ISK) is to shift key functions of land transactions involving leasehold land to respective county land offices and giving county governments a key role in overseeing the processes.

Radical recommendations to root out cartels from land transactions also include requiring the National Land Commission (NLC) to notify land owners by registered mail of lease title expiry five years to the date of the such expiry, and copying the notices to both the cabinet secretary and the respective county governments.

The NLC notices should include an advisory to the leaseholders about their pre-emptive rights to apply for renewals and extensions, and through which county office to lodge such applications in case of illiterate or elderly land owners.

“If the land owner does not respond to the NLC notice, the NLC shall publish the notice in two dailies of national circulation. In the event of no response still, the NLC shall conduct a ground visit and inspection to establish the status of the land, and if the owners or their family are still in occupation, advise them on the pending expiry and the need to make a renewal application and the consequences for failing to do so,” the task force report seen by the Sunday Nation states.

PUBLIC USE

In the event an application for renewal is rejected or unsuccessful for whatever reason, including planning requirements by either national government or respective county government, the rejection must be communicated in writing and within 90 days of the applications, giving the reasons for such rejection.

“In case the national or county government requires to acquire such land for public use, it must be included in the County Spatial Plans and Cities and Urban Areas Plans as provided for under county governments Act 2012,” the report says in a clause apparently aimed at curbing land grabs in the guise of public utility.

To reinforce the modernisation and predictability features of the envisaged reforms, the task force recommends that in the event of national or county government’s determination to use the land for public utility, it shall undertake an inventory of developments upon the land for purposes of effecting compensation to the land owner or investors.

The government last June published a Gazette notice setting out guidelines for land owners dissatisfied with decisions of national and county governments rejecting applications for renewal of leases.

APPEALS BOARD

Such land owners have recourse in a national land commission appeals board.

The NLC Appeals Board comprises the NLC chair, county executive members in charge of land, the county commissioner, Kenya Institute of Planners (KIP) members, Law Society of Kenya (LSK) member, Institution of Surveyors of Kenya (ISK) member, Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) member and land control board member.

The Gazette notice states that failure by the NLC to issue notice to the land owners will automatically grant them the right of renewal or extension.

The shake up through drastic measures to remove the current discretionary powers of bureaucrats manning various layers authority in the land department seems to have caught many entrenched power wielders by surprise, many of them being the same individuals behind the rot the reforms aim to confront.

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