By Harold Ayodo
Given the scarcity of private land in urban areas, plots being sold by municipalities are becoming hot cakes as investors and individuals trip over each other to secure a piece. Unfortunately, most of these buyers are not aware of the legal restrictions on such land and the risks involved if due process is not followed.
The 175 local authorities countrywide have powers to sell, grant or lease land they possess. However, they can only dispose off the property if not required for purposes it was acquired for and after approval from the Minister of Local Government.
Many people are also not aware of the by-laws that control property transfers in the municipalities, so many of them end up skipping important steps in the process.
Disposal of land by sale, lease or grant, for example, must be approved by a resolution of the council. Failure to abide by the legal procedures simply means the plots were acquired or allocated irregularly. These irregular land sales may be brought to the fore as devolved governments take shape.
The Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission recently raised a red flag over these illegal transactions, warning that council officials involved in the sale of the lucrative public assets risk corruption charges.
As a further indication that such deals have been going on, the Ministry Local Government recently wrote to municipalities, warning against disposing off assets without its approval.
However, in what may seem like a disregard of instructions from the parent ministry, local authorities have been holding meetings to regularise the property transactions.
Irregular sale of land in local authorities may not last long, though, because the law is certain to catch up with the corrupt officials and beneficiaries. And when it does, the losers will have to count their loses and not even ignorance of law will be an excuse.
According to KACC, over 80 per cent of properties on sale in the local authorities include land, houses, schools, health centres, vehicles and graders.
Some of the properties, according to the anti-graft agency, were being disposed off in a questionable ballot system. Kisumu, Yala, Nakuru, Mombasa, Narok and Kisii are among councils leading in the irregular disposals, according to the former KACC Director Patrick Lumumba.
Lands Minister James Orengo, although seemingly in a knee jerk reaction, recently revoked title deeds in municipalities that were fraudulently allocated. In Kisumu, 37 titles reserved for the High Court and municipal houses were among the 345 cancelled countrywide. Several other municipalities were victims of revoked title deeds of property in the special Gazette Notice No124 dated November 26, 11.
The Constitution empowers the Government to repossess public land allocated unlawfully. Buyers who will have bought land meant for road reserves, even though unknowingly, will have to bear the consequences as the Government repossesses the land.