19November2017

Mwathane Need to appoint credible land control boards and restore professionalism in land administration

LAND REFORMS IN KENYA AND AROUND AFRICA

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Need to appoint credible land control boards and restore professionalism in land administration

Posted by on in Land Governance
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Land administration informs security, economy and politics

The November 2015 cabinet shuffle saw Prof Jacob T. Kaimenyi move from the voluble Education Ministry to Lands. He swapped places with Dr Fred O. Matiang’i, who until then had given quite a good account of himself in Lands. Matiang’i had held forte in acting capacity following the exit of Charity Ngilu who enjoyed a high profile in the Ministry till matters still pending judicial determination got her to step aside. Prof Kaimenyi must not underrate the rather ‘sleepy looking’ Lands docket. This is one Ministry whose operations have fundamental implications to security, the economy and politics of the country. The land related murders, protracted and expensive court cases, public demonstrations, project delays, the allocation of riparian and road reserves witnessed in Nairobi County at various moments underscore this. Unfortunately, this is slowly scaling up countrywide.

Much as Prof Kaimenyi has gone about business quietly since entering Ardhi House, his recent disbandment of Land Control Boards and the Huruma building collapse that followed, now call for his firm engagement. The collapsed building appeared to have been erected on a plot seemingly right next to a river, raising issues on the appropriateness of the allocation. Moreover, the electoral clock is ticking and, as always, land and related issues will soon snowball into an election issue. His Ministry must be fully prepared to withstand public scrutiny and election rhetoric on performance and future plans.

Improved relations between Ministry and Land Commission

As a start, Kaimenyi has done well to manage the conflict that there had always been between the Ministry and the Land Commission. It’s a conflict that did not augur well for the country and business in the Ministry. One hopes that this will become a permanent feature and translate into better service delivery by the Ministry and the Commission. Listening to technical officers from both institutions, this is achievable provided working guidelines are developed based on existing laws so that the public can be seamlessly served without getting tossed between the two institutions. This should make lots of sense since most of the hands-on technical officers have previously worked together.

Appoint credible land boards

The dissolution of Land Control Boards was long overdue, with routine complaints filed about these organs from most parts of the country. But Prof Kaimenyi will need to go beyond just merely reconstituting these organs. First, he will need to put in place a mechanism that puts in place new members who view these organs as platforms to safeguard the interests of the public and promote local economies and not vehicles for enrichment. In every jurisdiction, it should be possible to raise men and women of such vision and integrity. He will have to protect the vetting panels from pressure from local political actors to put their loyalists in these organs. Moreover, he will need to find a way of ensuring that the officers from the Lands offices, who usually provide the secretariat, are themselves credible and committed. This criterion should also apply to the officials from the Provincial Administration who chair and provide overall guidance to these boards. For routine business, if the Chair and Secretary play their parts well, these boards function very well. Where they don’t, the boards give! In addition, these boards must be facilitated with sufficient official stationery and member allowances lest such resource gaps are irregularly loaded onto the bills of service seekers.

Restore professionalism in service delivery

Once done with these boards, Prof Kaimenyi will have to put focus on routine service delivery issues at Ardhi House and around the counties. Listening around, land business has become anyone’s preserve. Within and without government, cartels and fraudsters have established forte. Many people without professional credentials today pose as planners, surveyors, valuers or real estate agents and do business most promiscuously. Once they identify any property for subdivision or sale, it is game. They seem to have willing collaborators who prepare and get survey records internally approved without ever setting foot on the property then proceed to process parallel title deeds while the genuine ones are ‘safely with the owners’. Similarly, riparian, road and other sensitive public reserves have been ‘silently’ issued with titles from public offices. Professor must put the police on the trail of land fraudsters. He must call upon sincere professionals in his Ministry, through their professional boards and associations, to rise up and help the country to clean up. He also must face the reality that some officers are deliberately abetting land fraud and ship them out if integrity and service delivery have to turn around.

 

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