Radical land proposals to rein in cartels, change lease rules

A Task Force set up to investigate fraud and corruption involving extension and renewal of land ownership leases quietly submitted an explosive  report to Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi last Tuesday.

It was not clear why the Land Cabinet secretary opted for a closed door event, only attended by ministry and National Land Commission (NLC) staff.

The report seen by the Nation made radical proposals among them revocation of all leases granted, extended or renewed between August 2010 when the new Constitution was enacted and 2012, when the NLC was established.

These are leases that did not comply with the law, reports the Task Force to Investigate Status of  Lease Renewals and Extensions, set by Prof Kaimenyi last February.

KEY PROPOSAL

Land officers involved in fraud, indiscipline and corrupt transactions should have a list of shame compiled, made public, shared with national and county governments and the Director of Public Prosecutions, and professional associations for action.

One key proposal by the taskforce was for the state to declare a 5-year moratorium window for all holders of expired leases to regularise them without fear of loss through fraud.

The task force was chaired by former Institution of Surveyors of Kenya (ISK) chairman Ibrahim Mwathane.

Investors, banks and financial institutions should  brace themselves for anxious days ahead after the report recommended an urgent review of all leases extended or renewed under two parallel regimes, one ran by the Ministry of Land and Physical Planning and the second by the NLC.

“These fall under the purview of ‘illegal and irregular’ as confusion between the ministry and the NLC resulted in many documents being signed by either or both. All fraudulently procured leases should be revoked and indiscipline, negligence and fraudulent actions by personnel prosecuted to end impunity” the report says.

CONTROVERSIAL PROJECTS

Among others, the recommendation to reopen and review transactions under Ngilu-Swazuri parallel regimes also implies controversial multi-billion shilling projects like the Southern By-pass and the standard gauge railway that were constructed without approval of National Assembly as required by law in alteration of national park’s boundaries can now be re-opened and subjected to public scrutiny.

The two parallel systems one gazetted by NLC chairman Mohamed Swazuri and the second by then Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu were the climax of territorial wars between the ministry and NLC, each claiming legal mandates over the same administrative function involving leases.

Prof Kaimenyi walked into a war zone of high profile media and court battles between the ministry and NLC when he was appointed after Mrs Ngilu was dropped, and apparently could not find his way around, and hence the Task Force.

The Task force was set up on the heels of public hue and cry against fraudulent evictions and demolitions of private properties in Nairobi, after cartel networks with deep connections at Ardhi House secured ownership documents for properties whose leases had elapsed and owners applied for renewal.

TARGETS

Elderly and illiterate property owners, especially those of Asian extraction whose children or relatives live abroad have recently become targets of the property sharks, after their leases expired without their knowledge.

In some cases, ownership documents and files “went missing” from Ardhi House or county land registries, only for some strangers to later show up with demolition and eviction squads armed with new ownership documents and eviction court orders.

A shocking finding by the Mwathane team was rampant fraud and corruption in land offices was so bad that majority citizens opted to clutch at their expired documents at home – apparently because they were no longer sure who between corrupt land officers who “disappear” files at registries, or the eviction hoodlums showing up claiming to be the new landlords.

“Many people are holding expired leases but afraid to present them for renewal and extensions over uncertainty around leases in public offices,” the report says.

Only departmental heads at Ardhi House and NLC attended the submission of the report at the Ministry’s boardroom on Tuesday morning.

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