NAIROBI: There is unease in the multi-billion shilling financial and real estate sectors with reports indicating that processing of titles has ground to a halt at the Lands office with a backlog of close to 8,000 documents.
Although the Government insists all is well at Ardhi House, the ministry's headquarters in Nairobi, The Standard has established there are delays in the processing of leases and issuance of title deeds with over 7,471 leases outstanding by April 22.
Industry players have acknowledged the problem given the documents are vital in land transactions including transfer of property and borrowing from financial institutions as titles are used as security.
The hitch in the processing of the documents, which has consequently held up land transactions for properties reportedly worth close to Sh8.5 billion, is blamed on the office of the of the Chief Land Registrar. Last month the registrar, Sarah Mwenda, stepped aside after being named in the anti-graft report.
Lands, Urban Planning and Housing Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu was also asked to step aside after being mentioned in the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission report that President Uhuru Kenyatta submitted to Parliament.
But acting Lands CS Fred Matiang'i said Lands ministry operations were "running as usual" contrary to reports, adding that the ministry had appointed an acting Chief Land Registrar to ensure no work piles up.
"Jane Ndiba was appointed as the Chief Land Registrar almost immediately after the previous one stepped down. She has been in office to ensure work goes on swiftly," Matiang'i told The Standard.
The CS said all land documents pending at Ardhi House are being handled by the acting officials. "We do not have a crisis in handling leases or any land documents because we have people working on them," Matiang'i said.
Speaking to the the Standard on phone, Ms Ndiba confirmed she has been appointed by Matiang'i to take up the CLR duties, but said she has not signed any leases yet.
"There is a proper process to be followed. And I have not received a letter to that effect. "
She said she was awaiting a gazette notice authorising her to take up the CLR duties before signing the leases.
Sources said the Kenya gazette notice is expected this Friday. The same sources, however, argued that a CLR does not have to be gazetted to take up their duties.
Industry players complained that the situation at Ardhi House is causing great anxiety in the property market with the Kenya Bankers Association (KBA) and the Kenya Property Developers Association (KPDA) saying the crisis is having a ripple effect on the market.
"KPDA is working closely with various sector and industry players to ensure that efficiency and effectiveness is restored in the Office of the Chief Land Registrar. We recognise that projects worth billions of shillings are stalled and hence our ongoing engagement with the public and private sector players," KPDA Executive Officer Elizabeth Wambui said.
KBA Director of Communications and Public Affairs Nuru Mugambi also expressed concern over the worsening crisis. "There is industry concern regarding the issue within the Lands office. We are currently assessing the situation and will formerly engage the Ministry on behalf of the KBA member banks in the event that the matter escalates," she said in a statement.
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Property developers confirmed they have been unable to process lease documents for new home owners. Workers at Ardhi House also confirmed that things had ground to a halt.
A ministry employee confided in The Standard that contrary to what the CS had said, Ndiba had not reported to the office and no leases were being processed.
The figures of the incomplete leases are staggering proof of the sad state of affairs. According to well-placed sources, as at April 22 there were over 1,502 leases waiting to be printed and over 2,820 files with leases awaiting stamp duty assessment. Assuming that each title has an average minimum value of Sh1m, that would put the value of the property awaiting leases at Ksh4.3 billion.
And that figure excludes another 899 files of leases with errors awaiting correction, 313 files with leases awaiting auditing and stamping and 616 files with stamped leases awaiting signature.
In addition, there are 1,102 files with stamped leases awaiting forwarding letters and 199 files with signed leases awaiting signature and forwarding letters.
In total, over 7,471 leases remained outstanding as at April 22 and are likely to have topped 8,500 by now. In monetary terms, that's close to Sh8.5 billion.
But it gets worse. Knowledgeable land sources say that at least more than half of the leases will have to be reprinted because many were printed on the premise that Ms Mwenda would sign them.
Since she is not in office, a new officer will have to have his or name printed, creating yet another nightmare.
Lands ministry sources also intimated the problems were being compounded by a Cabinet moratorium announced on March, 10 on the issuance of new leases.