Chairman’s gusto turned agency into theatre of absurd

The end was nigh for one of modern Kenya’s controversial figure - Dr Mohamed Abdalla Swazuri- after the long arm of the law swooped on him in a dawn raid yesterday.

For almost six years, the National Lands Commission (NLC) boss waded from one controversy to another spitting more fire than light, escaping unscathed, until yesterday.

Only a day after trashing parliamentary committee findings against him on the Ruaraka land saga, Swazuri, like a little fly in Director of Public Prosecution Noordin Haji’s grand scheme, was picked up from the warmth of his home to the cold of Integrity Centre.

“I have reviewed the file and I am satisfied that the persons named herein participated in the perpetration of the alleged criminal activities and should therefore be charged and prosecuted,” a press statement from the DPP’s office read.

The file referred to was one detailing allegations that Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) and the NLC presided over a dubious compensation scheme for persons and entities affected by the Standard Gauge Railway project.

Sitting at the apex of the commission once described “mother of all commissions,” Swazuri was quite the man for the last five years in which the infrastructure was the key pillar to development.

A common thread that ran through the mega project rolled by Jubilee government since 2013 was the need for copious amounts of land. None escaped his touch either in valuation of the land, negotiation for its pricing or recommendation for payments. And this, for some, has been the commission’s, and by extension Swazuri’s Achilles Heel.

In the SGR compensation matter that he and 17 other people and entities are being fingered for, auditors at Kenya Railways unearthed one of the biggest rip-offs in the country’s history, with NLC and KRC insiders estimating the loss of public funds at more than Sh4 billion.

For those who have worked long enough at Ardhi House, the NLC’s seat of power, the only thing more valuable than a file under review by the commission is what it can be exchanged for.

The man from Kwale has on more than one occasion been accused of impropriety by different people. He hit it off his tenure at the commission with a protracted battle with ex-Lands minister Charity Ngilu, eventually toppling her.

Ignoring former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga’s advice against turning the commission into the theatre of the absurd, Swazuri took on everyone who raised a finger against him with gusto. “If your grandmother died 100 years ago, then you keep on going to the grave to cry, that grandmother will never wake up, people are flogging a dead horse,” he dismissed the Senate on Friday over the Ruaraka saga.

At the Coast, where some of the country’s oldest land grievances continue to exist and where Swazuri comes from, it was hoped the NLC would have the most impact. But some say confidence in Swazuri and his commission waned long ago.

“People say that hearings chaired by the commission are auction sessions where land grabbers come to get a feel of the community’s emotions before deciding on a price that will see all their problems disappear, and their ownership reaffirmed,” Mombasa based land rights activist Nagib Shamsan told the Sunday Standard in a previous interview.

Those who knew Swazuri from years back say they struggle to recognise the man before and now. And tomorrow when he appears in the dock, they will struggle even further to reconcile the image of the chairman’s past self to what he has become, a boogeyman in a super hero movie who always has one-up against the hero.

It is expected though that he will put up a strong fight given his philosophy on such simple matters as a probe.

“An investigation is not murder. We will not be killed. We are ready. I am not hiding anything,” he once said after being threatened with a probe. But tomorrow, the weight of the issues at hand might indeed mean more than pompous phrases for the 59-year-old year old former lecturer at the University of Nairobi’s Department of Real Estate and Construction Management with a PhD in Land Economics.

Auditors looking into the compensation rip-off found instances where the names of individuals meant to be compensated captured by the NLC schedules were different from those who eventually appeared in the Kenya Railways payment schedules.

The investigators also noted that there were at least eight cases where beneficiaries who were paid Sh1.7 billion could not be traced.

They also listed 22 payments that were made to individuals with neither names nor national identification numbers. These 22 were paid a total of where Sh1.1 billion was paid.

They also found a ridiculous claim of Sh636 million on their own marshaling yard, which had been illegally subdivided into nine parcels, with five of these appearing in the NLC compensation schedule.

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mohamed swazurinlcdpp noordin haji