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Leaders accuse Bank of abetting land malpractice

Top  leaders in Taita-Taveta County are accusing a leading regional commercial bank of colluding with a rich investor to illegally transfer 1,953 hectares of land in  Voi sub-county to a third-party and in so doing help the investor avoid handing back the land to the county government after the expiry of the land lease period.

During a press briefing in Governor Granton Samboja’s office Sunday, the leaders said that Voi Plantation Ltd, whose lease has expired, was supposed to revert back to  county government but had secretly been transferred and registered under Voi Point Limited whose ownership, was shrouded in secrecy.

Present at the briefing included, Senator Jones  Mwaluma, MPs, Jones Mlolwa (Voi), Andrew Mwadime (Mwatate), Danson Mwashako (Wundanyi) and several Members of County  Assembly.

Samboja said the change of use from farming to commercial was also done illegally as the county government was kept in the dark at all levels of the transactions.

The governor termed the exercise as fraudulent and said the land would not go back to investors who were out to defraud the local residents.

“After the expiry of the lease, the land was to revert back to the community but we have learnt that it has already been transferred to another entity which has  started sub-dividing and selling it to unsuspecting members of public,” he said.

Samboja said the Nairobi Stock Exchange (NSE) listed bank was at the heart of financial deals with the investor and vowed not to allow banking institutions to be used  as conduits of defrauding the residents their land.

Samboja  disclosed that the county leaders had a week ago held a crisis meeting with Cabinet Secretary for Lands (CS), Farida  Karoney and the Principal Secretary (PS), Nicholas Muraguri over the matter.

In what is a pointer to massive irregularities surrounding the sale of this prime land located in Voi town, directors of a Zenith Spatial Planning Agency Ltd in Nairobi have distanced themselves from the alleged sub-division of the land parcel.

In a letter dated April 1st, 2019, David  Weyusia, a land planner and firm’s director, said his company has never been commissioned to carry out sub-division of land parcel LR. NO. 28683 whose registered owners are Voi Point Limited.  Weyusia claimed that the signature and rubber stamp used in the sub-division documents were forgeries and asked the county to help in apprehending the culprits.

“This is a clear case of fraud which I am not a party to, neither, involved in any manner whatsoever,” reads part of the letter.

More  documents seen by KNA include a letter addressed to the CS for lands dated 8thApril and detailing the status of the LR NO 28683 by the regional Land Registrar- in-charge, J.G. Wanjohi.

Wanjohi said the land was first registered as a grant No. CR 51725 in the name of Voi Sisal Estate Limited for 99 years with effect from January 1st 1993 at an annual rent of Sh. 353, 795. Since then, the owners had taken several loan facilities from the bank using the land.

In February 2012, the land was transferred to Voi Plantation Limited and charged to a local bank for three billion shillings and an extra five million dollars. In 29th December, 2017, a further charge of Sh. 150 million was registered by the bank over the same land.

A third and fourth charge were registered by the same bank on the same date of 29th December, 2017 valued at Sh. 1.1 billion and Sh.4.2 billion respectively. The charges were discharged on 13th February 2019. On that same day the money was released, the land was transferred to Voi Point Limited for four billion shillings from the bank

followed by an extra Sh. 800 million.

Senator  Jones  Mwaluma said the bank needed to come clean and make public its role in the land noting that transactions worth billions were done over the land parcel without knowledge of county leaders.

“This prime land is being used to get huge loans from banks but we need the bank to come clear and reveal what deals were entered with the investor using county land,” he said.

The  Wundanyi  MP, Danson Mwashako and a former banker said the bank was hiding shady deals that were not complying with the banking reporting systems as laid down by Central Bank of Kenya, adding that banks had the moral obligation to do due diligence and establish solid facts about the nature of any land parcel before committing its  money.

“Banks should invest in establishing the truth about land parcels that people want to take loan against to avoid aiding in illegalities,” said the first-time MP.

The  Taita Taveta County Land Registrar, Sego  Manyarkiy noted that the Voi Sub-County Lands Control Board issued consent for transfer from Voi Plantation Limited to Voi Point  limited on January 2019. A further consent for sub-division and change of use was issued by the same board on 13th March 2019.

In a letter to Lands Principal Secretary, Nicholas Muraguri, Manyarkiy noted that Section 17 (1) of the general land regulations provided that applications for sub-division, amalgamation and partitioning of land parcels be submitted to the county government who then may approve or dismiss the application stating reasons for  either decision.

Samboja  said the county had not been involved in any way in the subdivision of land which was a violation of the law.

The leaders vowed to engage law enforcement agencies to probe all illegal deals on the land and bring all culprits into book.

By  Wagema  Mwangi

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