The story of how the National Land Commission (NLC) gave a hotel establishment associated with Deputy President William Ruto a rare privilege of paying up for developing an illegally acquired public land, can now be told.
A January 22 NLC report obtained by Saturday Standard slapping Weston Hotel on the wrist for illegally taking up 0.773 hectare of land belonging to the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) places the blame on past officials at Lands ministry.
The report acknowledges that the 0.773 hectare (1.7 acres) land was illegally allotted in 1998 and that it indeed belonged to KCAA but still opted to give the hotel a soft landing, requiring it to pay KCAA for the piece of land opposite the Wilson Airport.
This is in contrast to what has been witnessed in recent past, where buildings on public land have been brought down, in spite of their owners obtaining court documents stopping demolitions. This was the case for the South End Mall along Lang’ata Road, down the road from Weston, that had been built on riparian land.
In the report, NLC says it would regularise the Title Deed issued to Weston Hotel once it pays KCAA the current market rates for the parcel of land.
“Weston Hotel is required to pay the current market price of land to KCAA so as to enable it purchase land of equal value,” said NLC report signed by Abigael Mbagaya, the commission’s vice chair.
The report details how the piece of land has since 1998 changed hands, and the various interventions by KCAA and numerous Ministry of Transport officials.
These included several Principal Secretaries that over time served in the ministry, including Francis Muthaura and Sammy Kyungu. Former Prime Minster Raila Odinga also at some point tried to intervene.
The parcel was initially allocated to Priority Investments Limited and Manene Investments Limited after paying what NLC said was grossly undervalued amount.
KCAA, in 1999, had written to the Commissioner of Lands to express concerns about the allotment of the land, which according to then Director of Civil Aviation “housed vital component in logistical support for the department”.
The authority, then operating as the Directorate of Aviation, had also put up stores there that held sensitive aviation navigation equipment and spares. It was also the same place that KCAA planned to build its headquarters.
In 2007, the hotel changed hands and was acquired by Ruto’s Weston Hotel Limited for a reported Sh10 million. Ruto, his wife Rachel Chebet Kimeto and daughter Charlene Chelagat Ruto are listed as directors of Weston Hotel Limited.
In October last year, Ruto defended his acquisition of the land on Lang’ata Road, saying he had bought it legitimately. The DP has already acquired Sh1.3 billion loan using the title of the land.
The loans, according to the NLC report, include half a billion shillings borrowed from KCB Group, both in local currency and the US dollar.
“This property is charged to KCB twice - $1.5 million and Sh350 million,” said NLC, noting that the bank could lose money, in an attempt to justify why the hotel should not be demolished.
The report details how the hotel had been quite the hot potato over the years. It says that the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) – the predecessor of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) – investigated the matter but gave up on it when they admitted that they could not find documentary evidence to prosecute anybody.
They advised KCAA to seek help from the Registrar of Titles at the Ministry of Lands. “The Commissioner of Police was requested to provide security for the parcel and to identify the people KCAA accused of illegally acquiring and developing the parcel. The Commissioner however advised KCAA to seek a court order to compel the security committee to provide the kind of security KCAA had requested,” NLC Report
Ruto, through lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi, denied irregularly acquiring the land, saying no one had ever claimed the property since he acquired it and that even during the hotel’s construction, he did not receive any complaint from the State or any individual.