Showdown looms as Mohammed Swazuri team opposes 10-day closure of land offices

By CYRUS OMBATI and GEOFFREY MOSOKU

Kenya: Fresh standoff looms at the Lands ministry headquarters after the National Land Commission (NLC) declared Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu’s order to close its offices illegal.

Ngilu, in an advert appearing in local dailies, said she had closed the department for 10 working days starting this morning to review central land registries and services and would resume on May 19.

But the NLC said it would carry out its services as usual today.

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“Pursuant to the law, the commission is an independent constitutional commission and regulates its own procedures. In this regard, the commission would like to inform the public that it will be open for business as usual,” said the commission vice chair Abigael Mukolwe.

Yesterday, Ngilu told The Standard that she had taken the steps in spite of opposition, to clean up the registry with a view of digitalising the department. “We have already completed the exercise at Surveys of Kenya and now we are moving to the central registry; the exercise will be conducted for a period of ten working days,” she said.

In bad faith

The banking hall will be closed which will bring several operations to a halt as it is key to many land matters and payments. Registrations of land documents, searches, stamp duty payments, land rent payment and application for valuations and processing will not be done during the period, Ngilu said.

Other affected services, according to Ngilu, include payments of allotments, application for subdivision of land, settlement programmes and land adjudication.

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According to the advert, the ministry is exercising its power to facilitate efficient land administration and management. This means the issuance of title deeds countrywide has been suspended.

Ms Mukolwe said Ngilu’s directive was illegal and could cost the country millions of shillings in losses because she did not consult the commission.

“Some of the offices she said will be closed are the mandates of the commission and she did not consult us as it should be before making the announcement. We will be there to serve the public,” said Mukolwe.

Ngilu had declared Ardhi House would be closed for two weeks starting today to enable them conduct an audit and re-organisation of land registries. The central registry, the Nairobi registry and the records registry will all be closed for the exercise to clean up the ministry.

“To realise these objectives, the Lands Directorate has set up a programme of re-engineering our business processes with a view of reducing the turn-around time on service delivery,” the notice by Ngilu read.

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However, Mukolwe said the minister’s move was in bad faith.

“You are aware we have gone to the Supreme Court to seek an opinion on our mandates and those of the ministry. I don’t want to appear prejudicial but we see much on this,” she said.

NLC moved to the Supreme Court to seek an advisory opinion regarding its mandate and the Lands ministry and on land administration and management.

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National Land Commission NLC Charity Ngilu Mohammed Swazuri