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Land reforms to settle historical injustices, says County Commissioner

Nakuru County Commissioner Loyford Kibaara has affirmed that the State is committed to instituting land reforms and enacting policies that are geared towards settling historical injustices as well as curbing fraud, corruption and manipulation of land records.

Mr Kibaara said that at the click of a button, citizens can now carry out various land transactions online drastically reducing human interactions, delays and all other inconveniences that Kenyans have had to endure in land registries.

The administrator noted that land injustices have roots within Kenya’s colonial experience which, sadly, independence did not fully resolve.

Speaking during a public participation on the proposed ‘Land Laws Bill 2023, at the Regional Commissioner’s plenary hall in Nakuru, Mr Kibaara stated that the ongoing digitization of land records was aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of the land management regime.

He expressed optimism that the new system will make redundant all previous practices by providing an updated and easily accessible database of land records.

“The digital platform is tailored to secure innocent Kenyans from exploitation by cartels, middlemen and fraudsters. With the advent of Ardhi Sasa the issue of missing files, perennial frauds, corruption and illegal land transactions will be a matter of the past,” he said.

Mr Kibaara added, “the development now allows the Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning to start the process of migration to a unitary regime of land registration in order to curb fraud and also to cut transaction time.

The participants were drawn from Baringo, Bomet, Nakuru and Kericho counties. The Land Laws (Amendment) Bill 2023 is sponsored by Majority leader Kimani Ichung’wah.

The County Commissioner said the government was keen to have a digital platform that will benefit all landowners and protect them by providing accurate information required to support the commercialization of land as property in a convenient and timely way.

“We are dedicated to having a platform that will also ensure transparency, efficiency, accountability and dispute resolution thereby dramatically reducing the number of land cases that are pending before our courts,” he said.

The County Commissioner said the government is committed to ensuring and enhancing all aspects of land, security of tenure and sustainable use of land as an economic resource.

He said the government will ensure that all land belonging to the government and learning, research institutions.  Cultural sites, protected community lands and public utilities countrywide is secured from land grabbing or encroachment.

Team leader for the committee collecting public views on the proposed ‘Land Laws Bill 2023 Mr Thomas Abuta indicated that there was a need to amend outdated legislations in line with the 2010 constitution, to address the current numerous teething outstanding land issues.

Mr Abuta stated that if assented into law the proposed statute will lay ground for the review and introduction of the long-awaited new land laws as enshrined in the 2010 constitution.

Mr Abuta who is also a Senior State Counsel noted that some of the current laws were enacted in 1962 and thus needs to be reviewed.

“The constitution requires that land laws should be reviewed after every ten years, for better management of land use in the country, and similarly to ensure the government and its citizen’s benefit equally and effectively from the proper land use,” he said.

The Senior State Counsel pledged that once the land reforms bill is enacted into the law, it will resolve current teething land issues that hinder wise management and use of land in the country.

“The land reforms bill will amplify digitization of land registration process to ease transactions. The reforms will also enhance automation transactions aimed at reduction of timelines in registration of property,” Abuta explained.

He observed that the land reforms bill is set to introduce new land management including self-service through online land platforms and cashless transactions, all aimed at minimizing corruption at the Ministry of Lands.

Other reforms contained in the land reforms bill are reviews of outdated land services fees, inclusion of other actors into the land management especially the county government to be able to participate in land control boards, introduction and adjustment of new land services fees and taxes, as well enhancement of government revenue collection.

Other issues set to be addressed by the land reforms bill are leasing land vis-a-vis buyer property act that is section 54 on buying of property of land.

The land reforms bill will address the issues of the maximum and minimum amount of land ownership required per person and prevent or set up regulations towards subdivision of farmland into small units, which is negatively affecting food production thus resulting in a shortage of food in the country.

Responding to the land reforms bill, the participants called on the Ministry of Lands to organize civic education for citizens to educate them on the new land reforms.

They expressed concern that a majority of members of the public are unaware of the new land laws, their management, and use and therefore it is necessary for awareness and education on the land changes contained in the land reforms.

The participants regretted that some of the citizens risked acting contrary to the new land laws, and thus unknowingly committing an offense punishable before a Court of law.

The long-awaited land reforms are enshrined in the 2010 Constitution. Kenyans have for the last 13 years continued to suffer due to delays in undertaking the required land laws amendment.

Besides seeking to amend a variety of land laws, the memorandum of objects of the Land Laws Bill 2023, indicates that if adopted and enacted into law, it will “enhance efficiency in matters relating to grants and dispositions and compulsory acquisition of lands”.

And to ensure compliance with the new provision, the Bill proposes to amend the Land Registration Act of 2012 to block registration of any land for which land rent has not been paid.

This will mean that if a freeholder is selling his parcel and transferring it to the new owners, the process will only be registered if the land rent on it has been well paid up.

Further, the Bill also seeks to amend the National Land Commission Act of 2012 to remove the time limits to review all grants and disposition of public land and to allow continuous receipt of historical land injustices claims to be heard after 2026 by upholding the provision of beyond 10 years stated.

The Bill also proposes to hand the Lands Cabinet Secretary powers to sanction land acquisition for state projects, a role that was initially reserved for the National Land Commission.

If approved, the Lands CS can either reject or approve an acquiring public body from undertaking acquisition based on whether it meets the requirements.

If it meets the criteria, the land will be mapped out and valued and the CS will then publish a gazette notice of the changes and deliver a copy to the registrar for land and all affected.

The proposed Land Law (Amendment) Bill for 2023 outlines that if a County or National government intends to acquire land, they must submit a request to the Cabinet Secretary of Lands.

The Cabinet Secretary is granted the authority to either compulsorily acquire the land or reject the acquisition proposal if it fails to meet the established criteria.

The bill specifies, “Whenever the national government or county government deems it necessary to acquire specific land, the respective Cabinet Secretary or County Executive Committee Member must submit a request for the compulsory acquisition of land to the Cabinet Secretary.”

Furthermore, “the Cabinet Secretary is empowered to establish criteria and guidelines for compliance by public bodies seeking land acquisition.”

The bill also states, “The Cabinet Secretary may reject a request from a public body seeking acquisition if it is determined that the request does not meet the prescribed requirements.”

Upon meeting the acquisition criteria, the affected land will undergo mapping and valuation according to the criteria outlined in the Land Act.

The Cabinet Secretary will then ascertain that the acquiring body has identified the number of individuals in actual occupation of the land. Upon approval, the Cabinet Secretary will publish a notice in the gazette, specifying the purpose for which the land has been compulsorily acquired.

The Land Act’s sections 107 to 110 will also undergo amendments, replacing the term “Commission” with “Cabinet Secretary.” The NLC’s roles will be further reduced by the deletion of the entire section 112, to be replaced by a new clause.

This new clause proposes the establishment of a Land Compensation Inquiry Committee, which will assume the responsibility of hearing and determining appeals stemming from decisions made by the Cabinet Secretary in the compulsory land acquisition process.

During the occasion Director of Survey Mr Weldon Maritim disclosed that fraudulent surveyors were to blame for the mess in land allocations particularly in settlement schemes and riparian lands.

He expressed confidence that if passed, the new law will ward off quacks and fraudsters.

Mr Maritim observed that the proposed statute provided for strict adherence to the law and would therefore not allow for illegal transactions.

The Director said the bill would seal loopholes which impersonators, fraudsters and middlemen capitalized on to solicit bribes, and upholds the integrity and sanctity of land ownership documents.

He explained that the only person allowed to carry out a survey that affects any property is a surveyor, which can be a government surveyor or a licensed private surveyor, according to the Survey Act Cap 299.

“A government surveyor is any officer of the Survey Department of the Government who is authorized by the director of surveys to perform any survey duty under the Survey Act. A licensed surveyor, on the other hand, is a surveyor duly licensed under the Survey Act,” stated the Director.

He warned that according to section 32 of the Survey Act, no land shall be deemed to have been surveyed or resurveyed until the plan thereof has been authenticated by the director of surveys or of a Government surveyor authorized by the director in writing or by the affixing of the seal of the Survey of Kenya.

“Any surveys carried out by non-government surveyors or non-licensed surveyors are illegal surveys that should not be used to either compensate anybody for any property damaged or be used as a basis for any demolitions,” cautioned Mr Maritim.

By Anne Mwale

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