Hundreds of property owners claimed, with the help of corrupt Government valuers, to own princely homes; with one complete with a swimming pool. The SGR is a flagship project of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration.
As a result, the total compensation bill forwarded to President Kenyatta was Sh15 billion, which was rejected and fresh valuation started.
Officials involved in the current evaluation place the combined value of the property along the Standard Gauge Railway line — between Tuala and Embulbul in Ngong — at slightly below Sh7.5 billion.
In the reconstituted team of valuers, officials from the Office of the President are involved reportedly at the instructions of the President himself. The fresh assessment has, for instance, exposed an initial claim for three-quarters of an acre but the valid claim should be an undeveloped eighth of an acre.
Going by the compensation rates, that claim would have come to Sh24 million — six times the fair value of Sh4 million. Another claim is for Sh112 million for a six-bedroom all en-suite home that was claimed to have a heated swimming pool. In reality, the one-storied townhouse was an ordinary home without a pool.
Even at the revised values, compensation for the affected people is already above the market prices, but could be excused given that it goes beyond just the monetary payment as people have emotional connection to their homes.
An eighth of an acre along most of the 20km railway corridor is valued at Sh4 million in areas more than one-and-a-half kilometres from two major roads — Ngong and Magadi. A similar size of land considered pricier owing to proximity to the roads is compensated at Sh7 million.
The exposé on the shocking variation comes on the back of a trip by the President’s delegation to China to seek loans to complete the railway project, among other issues.
President Kenyatta and several top officials, including Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich, are scheduled to meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping to sign loan documents for Sh380 billion to fund the Naivasha-Narok-Kisumu railway line.
Officials from the already stained National Lands Commission (NLC) are at the centre of the bid to steal public funds.
NLC is the Government agency that helps in valuation and compulsory acquisition of private land.
John Sikorei, who chairs an association formed by the households that will be affected, told The Standard that the initial valuation was outright theft in a scheme hatched by Government officials.
“They came here and lied to the people, asking them to exaggerate the developments on their parcels of land,” he said, in reference to the NLC valuers.
While Mr Sikorei was ready to speak on record about the fraudulent activities, he was wary that mentioning the specific properties could compromise cordial relations with neighbours and conniving NLC officials.
“In many cases, even the size of land was overstated, pointing to evidence that this was very deliberate,” he said.
In Sikorei’s understanding of the fraud, the corrupt officials would get a portion of the compensation, likely equal to the difference between the overstated figure and the lands fair value.
This development would further injure NLC, which has previously been accused of enabling fraud since its inception, including in the acquisition of what was already public land in the Mombasa-Nairobi section of the completed railway line.
Its chairman Muhammad Swazuri is also facing criminal charges relating to fraudulent payments for supposed acquisition of land occupied by two public schools in the city. But beyond the financial losses, NLC’s love for controversy is hurting households in different ways.
As the valuers foil this blatant theft of taxpayers’ money, hundreds of households that have already been displaced are yet to be compensated.
“It is because of their evil schemes that so many people are caught up in this confusion, not sure how to move on or where there children will even go to school,” Sikorei said.
His concern is in reference to the future after the Chinese contractor pulls down the hundreds of homes in the relatively well-developed corridor as owners will have to move, possibly to entirely new places amid the ongoing uncertainty.
And to illustrate how serious matters have become, anxious residents have pushed the contractor from several sites, prompting the President to intervene.
In one of the latest directives, China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) was asked to focus on two major stations and the stretch running through Oloolua Forest, which is government-owned.
But Joash Oindo, a senior official at the NLC currently responsible for valuation and taxes, defended the prior assessment done by the agency, arguing that the officials did honest work and that it was usual for different valuers to arrive at different estimates. On fraud, he said he was not aware of any cases.
“We were asked by the Ministry of Transport to assess the value of the land and we did just that, gave our report and we are certain the affected people will be compensated in due time,” said Mr Oindo.
He described what was put to him as a fresh valuation as a “normal audit”.
Before the controversial figures were questioned, President Kenyatta had directed Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia and his then Principal Secretary Paul Maringa to ensure compensation was made before the end of July. We are in September with no end to the circus in sight.
Mr Maringa said he could not comment on the matter now following his transfer to head the department of Public Works within the same ministry in mid-July and directed queries to his predecessor.
Newly appointed Transport Principal Secretary Esther Koimett did not responded to queries from The Standard relating to the delayed compensation, fraudulent valuations and suspension of works on several sites.
A few residents, however, have allowed the railway construction to continue even before the compensation comes through.
At his home at the edge of Oloolua Forest, a man who gave his name only as Ng’ang’a is among them. CCCC is erecting a bridge in his one-acre compound at the point the railway line will run over Forest Line Road.
“It is the Government that has promised to compensate us and it will, so really there is no point stopping the works,” Ng’ang’a said at his home on Saturday.
His concern, however, is that his permanent house will be left standing on a tiny sliver of land - just three metres from the railway fence, since the acquisition schedule is strictly within specified distance on either side of the line.
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