Title deeds: Chance for schools in Kenya to get it right

Langata Road Primary School, Nairobi, demonstrate in 2015 over the grabbing of their school’s land by a private developer. [PHOTO: ELVIS OGINA/STANDARD]

The Lands and Physical Planning Cabinet Secretary Prof Jacob Kaimenyi recently announced a waiver on survey and land registration fees to help schools get land title deeds with ease.

National Land Commission chairman Dr Muhammad Swazuri had earlier said that 41 per cent of schools countrywide were at risk of losing their land. Dr Swazuri explained that out of 24,000 public schools that President Uhuru Kenyatta had asked to apply for title deeds in January last year, only 10,047 had done so.

For years, lack of legal ownership documents has made several public institutions countrywide fall victims to land grabbers who either sell or construct on the property.

Recently, Dr Swazuri said that land belonging to 158 schools had been grabbed and the illegal owners acquired title deeds. He pledged to initiate investigations into how the title deeds were acquired yet it was clear the land belonged to public schools.

Interestingly, most of the affected public institutions are in areas where real estate is flourishing — Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret and Nakuru. Dr Swazuri gave the grabbers two weeks to demolish their developments or forfeit them to the State.

As the institutions struggle to get the title deeds, some head teachers are also to blame for failing to apply for the ownership documents.

The NLC chairman was recently quoted in the media as saying that despite sending head teachers application forms, they either fail to apply or provide accurate information.

He said that 457 school heads had sent incomplete information in their applications for land documents while another 754 schools could not be given title deeds because they were built in unplanned and undesignated areas.

According to Dr Swazuri, boundary disputes involving 247 schools were being sorted out by county land management boards while schools built on government forest land would be de-gazetted.

But even as public schools struggle to acquire title deeds, some are finding it hard to challenge the alleged grabbers who have financial muscles for court battles.

The private developers are using the court process — which includes permanent injunctions — as their developments continue before they eventually sell.

A recent report by the County Government of Nairobi has named private developers and religious organisations among top grabbers of public school land.

The Nairobi County task force report, Improvement of Performance of Public Primary Schools and Transition Rate from Primary to Secondary Education, also revealed that many schools had lost huge chunks of land to private and religious entities. The report findings stated that the relationship between schools and religious institutions begins with “elements of partnership” through hiring or providing infrastructure or services to the schools, but later strains begin to emerge when each entity is pursuing expansion.

The task force observed that out of every 10 visited schools, one had a complaint on encroachment, either by private developers, religious organisations or illegal settlements,” says the report.

The report says that through its findings, most of the public properties have been grabbed by private developers who hive off parts of school land. It also says that religious institutions have acquired certain sections of public school land through charitable exercises that eventually lead to illegal possession.

“…they come up with the language of assisting schools such as helping to put up facilities such as toilets in the school and later ask to be leased part of school land after which they eventually, in collaboration with authorities, acquire illegal allocations,” says the report.

— The writer is an advocate of the High Court.

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