By DANN OKOTH
Lack of funding due to poor budgetary allocation, transparency and accountability could derail the implementation of the National Land Policy Act, a new study finds.
This could come with heavy social and economic costs given that the country is still smarting from devastating effects of post-election violence, which was linked to the issue of land.
When the Narc government swept to power in 2002 in a euphoric atmosphere, it assumed leadership on a platform of reforms and immediately initiated various reform agendas — including reforming the land sector and addressing historical injustices in the sector.
The Coalition Government on its part took the initiative further by developing the National Land Policy Document, which led to the land Acts that envisaged bringing some sanity to the sector.
But the new study, Budgeting for Land Reforms: Ensuring People’s Participation, reveals disturbing trends in budget allocation and use of funds meant for reform programmes in the sector.
The available documentation suggests inadequate planning and budgeting for land reforms mandated by the Constitution.
For instance, the study finds the amount budgeted for land has been revised by over Sh800 million between the 2012 budget policy statement and the financial year’s budget estimates even though these two documents were tabled in Parliament in the last half of April.
“This raises serious concerns about whether the budget figures the Treasury releases to Parliament are credible,” observes the study done jointly by Hakijamii and International Budget Partnership (IBP).
“Another concern is that the Ministry of Lands maintains a stable budget (recurrent plus development) in financial year 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 even though the National Land Commission should come into effect next year.
“One would expect budget for the ministry to reduce, while the total budget for the sector would increase to provide for new institutions and their operations,” it adds.
More unsettling is the fact no one knows the true cost of implementing land reforms and there does not appear to have been any effort to develop an updated costing in light of key policy changes over the past several years.
A detailed costing of land sector reforms was carried out in 2005. The global cost of the reforms over six years was estimated at Sh10 billion. This estimate is close to the Sh9 billion proposed in the National Land Policy document of 2009. However, these figures do not include estimates for Land Settlement Fund and Land Compensation Fund. Neither do they reflect changes in the reform process, which are as a result of the implementation of the Constitution.
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“There has been no attempt to update the estimated costs of reforms. At the same time, allocation to the sector is far below that requested. In 2012/13 the sector requested about Sh7.5 billion and received Sh5 billion, which did not also include cost of land reforms,” notes the study.
“In all likelihood, the Government has not set aside sufficient funding for reforms, but without additional information, it is impossible to know what these will cost.”
But experts warn these disparities in allocation, the lack of transparency in the budgetary processes and lack of accountability for usage of funds could turn a good course into a very bad one.
“One cannot underestimate the significance of land issues in contemporary Kenya. The post-election mayhem that almost tore the country apart in 2007/08 is intimately linked to perceived land injustices. Land inequality is largely a result of the failure of the post-independent leaders to give it the priority it deserves,” says Odindo Opiata, director at Hakijamii.
“Political leaders have instead become the key beneficiaries of this inequality. It is for this reason that Kenyans sighed hopefully when the country adopted the 2009 National Land Policy in 2009 and the 2010 Constitution.”
“But these hopes may be dashed by a deliberate failure by the Government and Parliament to provide adequate funding for land reforms. Indeed the inordinate delay in passing crucial land legislation was the first clear sign of how easy it is for our leaders to forget history,” he adds.
He says that unless backed by financing, the National Land Policy and the Constitution will remain just pieces of paper.
Opiata says the budget is the key instrument for translating national priorities into actions, adding that land reforms is clearly a national priority for the country as it impacts on the livelihood many Kenyans and peace in the country.
“It is for this reason the Government and Parliament should provide adequate allocation for the reforms envisaged under the Constitution, National Land Policy and the new legislation.
Specifically there is an urgent need to ensure the National Land Commission is sufficiently equipped to start serious work within a year and this will be the only way to ensure speedy and effective land reforms,” he says.
Mired in apathy
Clearly, current and past allocations in the sector have been mired in apathy and controversy sending bad signals even as Kenya enters a new phase in land resource management.
For instance, while the Government allocated Sh7 billion between 2009 and 2012 for resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs), there is little evidence on the exact number of people who were supposed to be resettled, how many have actually been resettled and how the funds have been used suggesting poor planning.
Meanwhile, the total proposed funding for IDP resettlement has grown rapidly since 2010 yet a large share of these funds were not allocated in the original budget, but were only requested later in the year through a supplementary budget. Supplementary budgets are typically tabled in Parliament in the latter part of the year to allocate funding for unforeseen issues. Yet the IDP issue is not new and was not unforeseen in 2010 or 2011.
“The way in which financing and accounting for IDP resettlement has been handled has tended to weaken transparency. Responsibility for resettlement lies jointly with the ministries of Lands and Special Programmes, but none of them provide adequate information about their role in the process or their use of funds.”
Lack of accountability for land resettlement programmes is not restricted to IDP resettlement alone. In fact, the Agricultural Settlement Fund (ASF) which was created to resettle and support small-scale farmers after independence, received Sh2.383 billion between 1995/1996 and 2006/2007 but did not provide financial statements for auditing during that time.
Although it then presented these statements in 2009 and 2010, it is unclear whether there was sufficient information to conduct audit. The fund received Sh5 billion in financial years 2007/2008 and 2010/2011, but it has not submitted financial statements since that period.
This means that an additional Sh7 billion plus allocated for land resettlement over and above the funds for IDPs has not been fully accounted for. According to Gabriel Dolan of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, the study demonstrates that the Government has managed funds in the land sector very poorly in the past, and there is little evidence of consistent, clear, transparent planning or budgeting for land reforms currently. “The time is now to demand a different path. If Kenya misses this chance at implementing land reforms, it is hard to say when the next opportunity will present itself,” says Fr Dolan.
Historical land issues
“Depriving the National Lands Commission of sufficient funds to fully implement Chapter Five of Constitution as well as the three new land laws is mischievous and the surest way to kill land reform in this country.
If we can spend Sh19 billion on the conflict in Somalia, surely we can afford up to Sh10 billion per year to address all the current and historical land issues.
“If settling the masses and guaranteeing the security of tenure is a priority, then money is needed to purchase land to settle IDPs and slum dwellers everywhere. The question is, are the poor a priority for our legislators?”
The study notes that the land sector in general has suffered from lack of transparency in budgeting that has made it difficult for Kenyans to participate fully in the sector or to hold official accountable for their decisions and use of funds.