National Land Commission (NLC) has disclosed plans to conduct a nationwide sensitization campaign, educating the public on dynamics of renewing expired land leases for both small and large-scale landowners.
The campaign is also aimed at addressing the high number of disputes relating to land matters across the Country.
NLC Chair, Gershom Otachi, said the issue of expiry of land leases across the Country required an informed public to understand the role of the different stakeholders involved in either renewal, part-renewal or rejection of lease applications.
He was speaking in Mwatate town Monday, during a consultative meeting with Taita-Taveta Governor, Granton Samboja.
Several Members of the County Assembly and other county officials attended the meeting. County officials from the Ministry of Land were also present.
“To ensure that we are as efficient as possible, we are beginning a sensitization campaign to provide clarity to the public about the requirements needed to apply for renewal or extension of lease,’’ he said.
The NLC Chair was accompanied by the Commission’s CEO, Kabale Arero.
Otachi said that the Commission was working on resolving several land issues in the County, but pointed out some of the matters relating to lease renewals were pending at the Senate while others were in court.
Taita Taveta County is among several counties that have seen increased cases of land disputes following expiry of leases for several large parcels of land.
Amongst the land whose leases are yet to be renewed, include 2,700 Machungwani Farm in Taveta that is owned by former Taveta Member of Parliament (MP), Basil Criticos.
The lease expired in 2013. Others include the 6,000-acre Mkuki Ranch in Mwatate whose lease expired in 2019.
The NLC Chair disputed claims that the lease for Machungwani Farm has been renewed, stating that the matter was pending at the Court of Appeal.
The 99-year-old lease on the Machungwani Farm had been granted to Captain Morgan in 1914 and was later transferred to George Criticos.
Efforts by Criticos to get approval by the County to renew the lease has hit a snag after County Assembly in 2016 said the land should be subdivided amongst the local residents.
Samboja said that the decision to have Machungwani Farm taken over by the County and sub-divided for the landless local residents still stood.
“We are still insisting the lease should not be renewed. It should be given to the residents who have lived there for decades,” he said.
However, Criticos, through his lawyer read malice in the delayed approval of his lease, which he says he had applied months before it had expired.
“This is land that I had put into use and requested for renewal years ago. Why it has not been renewed remains a mystery,” he said.
Other contentious issues that were discussed between NLC and the County Government include the Mkamenyi’s residents claims against the vast sisal farm of Voi Point Limited in Voi Sub- County; the expiry of leases for several ranches, the ownership of land parcels by Kenya Prisons and the alleged encroachment of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) into community land.
Samboja accused KWS of erecting a boundary on people’s land under the guise of putting up a fence to stop the rampant human-wildlife conflict.
He stated that the County was not opposed to erection of the fence but would not sit back as KWS exploited residents’ misery to extend its land.
“KWS already has taken over 63 per cent of the land. They are now taking advantage of the conflict to erect fences on people’s land. This will not be tolerated,” he said.
The governor also called upon ranch owners to follow the transition rules as stipulated in the new Community Land Act, including registrations of new members into the ranches.
“We have five ranches that have finalized on the transition and they will be called in two weeks’ time to be issued with their documents. As a County, we are going to be at the forefront to ensure the new Community Land Act is operationalized,” he said.
By Raphew F. Mukuyia