Rising cases of fraudulent sale of land by State corporations and Local Authorities prompted the Cabinet to freeze all transactions in public property, including transfer of land and buildings.

Kenya’s Lands Minister James Orengo

State firms were in frenzied disposal of public property, forcing Lands Minister James Orengo to write to colleagues in Cabinet, whose ministries have oversight over the parastatals.

Orengo had warned the Lands ministry would not sanction the transfer of land by any public institution unless the approvals of his and the parent ministry were obtained.

Comprehensive inventory

Kenya Railways Corporation was among the public firms Orengo cited for selling land in contravention of its governing Act, in a letter dated November 9, last year, to Transport minister Amos Kimunya.

In the letter, Orengo details sections of the Kenya Railways Corporation Act, which requires surplus public land or trust land granted for specific purpose surrendered to the Government and not sold out.

Orengo explained identical or similar provisions to discourage irregular sale of public land were found in Kenya Airport Authority Act, the Kenya Ports Authority Act and many other statutes establishing public institutions.

“I wish to inform you that the Ministry of Lands will not accept and/or register any transactions involving the sale of or lease of land without strict compliance with the statutory provisions I have set out hereinabove and more particularly without evidence of consent of the Minister for Transport,” Orengo concludes.

Similar cautionary letters were dispatched to ministries with a portfolio of State corporations, including Agriculture.

Also engaging in the irregular disposal of public and trust land were Local authorities, which could have plundered counties before formation of county governments.

Orengo said authorities had halted the sale by Nairobi City Council of a section of the City Park allocated for the construction of a dispensary so that the public continues enjoying the recreation site.

There were fears the looting spree would intensify in a General Election year, particularly given the uncertainty during ongoing reforms in land management and the transition to the devolved Government.

Apparently to respond to the alarm raised by the Lands minister, the Cabinet at a meeting chaired by President Kibaki at State House in Nairobi took the drastic step to halt dealings in public property altogether.

Last week, Cabinet froze the disposal of public assets by the Central Government and Local Authorities during the transition when a comprehensive inventory will be undertaken.

It also suspended the renewal of expired land leases for public, private and trust lands until the National Land Commission is operational and sanctioned a review of those that may have been irregularly renewed.

The measures are designed to curb the irregular extension of land tenures and guard against the plunder of public assets in the transition to devolved government.

Prime properties

The new directive has had its first casualties in the Postal Corporation and the National Social Security Fund.

Postal Corporation recently advertised a 5.03-acre prime land in Nairobi’s Kilimani area, which had earlier been promised to Bharti Airtel at Sh543 million.

NSSF had, too, advertised two prime properties on Uhuru Highway in Nairobi for sale.

Orengo said the Cabinet directive had reinforced the measures the ministry had taken to protect public and trust land. “Since the decree, we have not received any requests for disposal passing through the minister,” he said.

“Public institutions can only sell the land they have acquired by themselves. But for that given for a particular purpose it can’t be sold, even if they don’t need it,” Orengo added.

In the letter, Orengo notes although section 13(2) of the Act allows the corporation to sell property the board feels is not necessary, buildings or land granted by the Government is exempted from sale.

Section 14(4) and (5), he observes, provides the Corporation may convey, transfer or surrender any land surplus by a conveyance or a deed of surrender. “Provided that land which was public land or trust land shall be surrendered to the Government and shall not be conveyed or transferred to any person unless the minister responsible for lands shall consent and so direct,” Orengo adds.

The caveat extends to land vested in the corporation and grants to ward off profiteers.

The deals involved parcels of land, which were reserved for the Kenya Veterinary Vaccines Production Institute, but were, however, allocated to individuals in 1995 on speculative grounds.

By ALEX NDEGWA, The Standard



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