Land dispute to cost KIST Sh2.2 billion project as deadline extension fails to yield fruits

Kiambu residents and students of Kiambu Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) when they held demonstrations over the alleged grabbing of the institute's land. [Kamau Maichuhie/Standard]
Kiambu Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) could lose a Sh2.2 billion German-funded project unless a last-minute intervention in a protracted land dispute is made.

German Development Cooperation, which is funding the project, had initially given KIST until June 1 to secure a title deed for the land on which the project is to be constructed.

The German firm, however, extended the deadline to September 1 but the management of the college is frustrated that the Kenyan government has not resolved the dispute it blames on "powerful forces".

At stake now is the massive investment in infrastructure to benefit 5,000 students, which has been identified as a centre of excellence for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET).

KIST Board of Governors (BoG) chairman Josiah Kariu yesterday confirmed the land is yet to be reverted to the institute just a few days to the September 1 deadline.

Not successful

“We have gone to all Government offices in a bid to have the land reverted to KIST but we have not been successful. It has now become clear to us there are some very powerful forces that have been frustrating our efforts,” said Dr Kariu.

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KIST, Nairobi Technical Training Institute and Thika Technical Training Institute were identified to have their technical capacity upgraded by the German government under the Kenya German Technical Industrial Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training (TIVET).

One of the conditions to benefit from the German project was that the title deed should be in the institute's name.

Founded in 1971 in Kiambi town, KIST sits on 200 acres bought through fund-raisers. Currently, the land has been sub-divided into 10 parcels.

The genesis of the college's troubles is a feud pitting the BoG and Board of Trustees (BoT). The groups have been fighting over the management of the institute’s assets, including land.

Reports indicate an entity named The Registered Trustees of KIST had taken over the college’s assets, including land.

A BoG member claimed a powerful family with an interest in the land is behind the stand-off.

He also faulted the political leadership in Kiambu County for doing nothing to resolve the impasse.

“It is sad that the political leadership in the county has been silent as we fight to restore the land to the institute. The people of Kiambu will judge them harshly should they allow the institute to miss out on the multi-billion shilling project,” he said.

A source at the Ministry of Education said a technical institute in western Kenya has already been identified to take KIST’s slot in the funding.

Earlier on February 28, Kenya and Germany had signed an agreement to start the project.

“At the same time, we like to recall the pending signature of the loan and separate agreement. The delay in the title deed resolution of the KIST should not delay the support for other two institutes, namely Nairobi Technical Training Institute and Thika Technical Training Institute,” reads a letter from the German Development Cooperation in part.

The letter also indicated the feasibility study had identified five institutes as possible centres of excellence and suggested at selecting an alternative institute in cooperation with the Ministry of Education.

“Latest, with expiry of the deadline, the financing agreements for the first and second phase of other Financial Cooperation Programme of Youth Employment and Vocational Training in Kenya should be signed to avoid further delay in implementation,” says the letter.

Last year, following reports that The Registered Trustees of KIST had taken over the college assets, including land, BoG responded through a letter dated November 9, 2018, demanding that the trustees should transfer the land back to the institute with immediate effect.

The board also demanded the trustees vacate the premises they are currently occupying as their offices at the institute.

In addition, the board also demanded that the trustees cease all functions purportedly carried out in the name of KIST with immediate effect.

However, in a swift rejoinder, the trustees on November 19, 2018, through their lawyers, wrote back to the board maintaining the BoT is a legally constituted body corporate incorporated under the provisions of the Trustees (Perpetual Succession) Act Cap 164 with the principal objective of holding LR No 81/32 (the property) in trust.

“It is true that our client transferred the property to Kiambu Institute of Science and Technology Limited. This company, limited by guarantee, was a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) incorporated by the trustees, as subscribers. The intention of incorporating the company was to use a more flexible vehicle to help rationalise use of the property," reads the letter by the trustees to the BoG, in part.

The trustees in the letter, copied to the Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua, Attorney General Kihara Kariuki and TVET PS Kevit Desai, said there is nothing in the TVET Act 2013 that compels a corporate, which is validly holding a title deed, to transfer the property to the institute.

Desai in letter dated June 4 told the BoG to make a formal request to the BoT for allocation of one acre needed for the project.

“The German embassy in a letter dated to the PS, National Treasury, copied to us, indicates the project required roughly one acre piece of land. Based on this information, the BoG is advised to make a formal request to the BoT for allocation of one acre. This piece of land, together with the other land in passion of KIST, should be transferred to the institution and title issued as appropriate,” Dr Desai says in the letter.

However, the BoG in a letter dated June 28 addressed to the PS declined his advice.

Dr Kariu also indicated that the German project requires more land to accommodate other supportive buildings like hostels for students and parking area for people accessing the facility.

“The acceptance of subdivision of land to allow issuance of title to a section of the land leads to removal of the already existing caveat and legitimises the issuance of the tile deeds to other non-KIST entities,” Dr Kariu says in the letter to the PS.

The AG on October 19, 2018, in a legal opinion, advised that the governance structure of the institute be aligned with the governance structure of a public institute as provided under the TVET Act, 2013.

The AG also, in the legal opinion also copied to the Treasury CS and his education counterpart, said the property be vested in the name of the institute as provided in the TVET Act, 2013.

Legal opinion

“In that case therefore, the trustees should transfer the property for vesting in the institute, Further, the director of the company should be aligned with the TVET Act, 2013 so as to have the government interest represented by the board of governors, National Treasury CS and the Ministry of Education,” reads part of the AG’s legal opinion.

The AG advised the BoG to take up the necessary steps to vest the property to the institute subject to the guidance of the National Treasury.

However, despite the legal opinion by the AG, the institute is yet to get the land back.

President Uhuru Kenyatta acknowledged the land problem facing the institute during a tour of Kiambu town last December.

“We want to solve this small problem of KIST’s leadership so that in the New Year, we can use the money that we have been given by the German government to expand the institute,” said Uhuru.

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Kiambu Institute of Science and TechnologyKISTGerman Development Cooperation