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Land still a big thorn ahead of 2017 General Election

Issuance of title deeds, controversy over leases, digitisation of registries, historical injustices and compensation are some of the key issues to look out for in 2017 in the Land sector.

Considering it is an election year, land is likely to be part of the campaign agenda but Mr Ibrahim Mwathane, an expert in the sector, said the biggest priority for government should be to act tough on politicians who may want to exploit the masses — particularly on historical land injustices.

“Parliament has enacted the Land laws (amendment) Act of 2016 to deal with historical injustices. Politicians always take advantage of this powder keg ahead of elections. Their actions affect the economy and national stability. It’s time they are told that there are no quick fixes. Kenyans need to channel their grievances through the legal framework,” said the land expert.

Some of the areas affected by historical land injustices include most parts of Coast region as well agricultural areas where multinationals have set camp.
The government sent shockwaves across the country mid last year when it temporarily closed and digitised several land registries.

Land Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi now says 13 registries are now digitised between 80 and 90 per cent with five more expected to undergo the process in 2017.

“The upshot of this digitisation is that corruption will be suppressed. Access to files will only be through biometric identification and this will go a long way to ensure files do not go missing,” he said.

But Mr Mwathane said digitisation alone may not be enough.

“Nairobi is stretched in terms of supervision of other land registries. Officials in the registries have become masters instead of servants,” he said, adding that there should be collaboration with county governments and other stakeholders.

On the infrastructure projects such as the standard gauge railway that require acquisition of land by the government, Prof Kaimenyi said the National Land Value Index Bill 2016, which is already before Parliament will diversify methods for compensation.

CLEAN UP THE MESS

“Owners whose land the government has acquired can choose to take money per prevailing value in that locality, or they can opt for alternative land or even government bonds,” said Prof Kaimenyi. 

Last year was also characterised by incidents of land leases unscrupulously acquired and this year the government, will find itself being put on its defensive to clean up the mess. The blot in the land sector continues to be felt in a brutal way as lease holders are being harassed off their property by grabbers suspected of colluding with rogue ministry and county government officials. The most affected is land occupied by Asians in Nairobi’s Parklands and Westlands neighbourhoods.

On Thursday, the minister alongside National Land Commission (NLC) boss Prof Mohamed Swazuri said they will form a taskforce to look into all leases that have been issued in Nairobi in the last six months. Experts believe it will be a minefield as some banks may be holding illegally acquired leases as security for loans.

In an interview with Sunday Nation Prof Swazuri said the government cannot tell how many leases have expired. Most leases were issued between 1902 and 1920 and their terms are coming to an end.

“We get to know when the owners come for renewal of the lease, it’s quite difficult to know which lease is expiring,” he said.

ILLEGAL LEASES

Prof Kaimenyi said the taskforce will check illegal leases issued in the last six months adding that action will be taken against those who approved them. Last year, the Cabinet Secretary disbanded and replaced various land boards that had been set up in 2009 as part of the clean-up.

The boards, traditionally chaired by district commissioners or district officers, have enjoyed sweeping powers over all transactions relating to agricultural land — including its buying, selling or sub-division.

The CS also transferred officers who had been stationed in one place for more than five years. But an interesting aspect has been the fewer power struggles between the ministry and NLC, which marked the tenure of Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu before she was sacked in 2015 — after the implementation of a supreme Court advisory opinion on the roles of the two. The Land Laws amendment Act of 2016 further streamlined the operations of the ministry and the NLC.

But as the country gets to an election year, the issuing of title deeds that is something the Jubilee government will seek to take credit for. The ministry says it has issued 2.4 million titles since 2013 and 600,000 more are expected to be issued by the end of June this year.

Some of the sensitive areas that could be targeted this year include colonial villages in central Kenya, ranches and informal settlements, including land occupied by the Nubian community in Kibera. 

“From 2017 we are looking at waiving search charges for all Kenyans,” said Prof Kaimenyi.

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