Lands ministry cannot be trusted to secure records, says judge

Justice Sila Munyao. His judgment has put land officials on the spot. [Julius Chepkwony, Standard]

The Environment and Lands Court in Nakuru has raised doubts on the ability of officials in the Lands ministry to keep records safe.

In a judgement delivered on Friday, Justice Sila Munyao said Kenyans should worry about their land documents because the custodian cannot be trusted.

Mr Munyao said lands officials know very little of what happens within the registry, despite being custodians.

The judge nullified 3,300 title deeds issued to members of the Ol Jorai Land Buying Company Limited, saying it is a shame and a scandal that the titles were ever prepared in the first place and maps purporting to authenticate them drawn.

“If such could happen under the watch of the Chief Land Registrar and the Director of Surveys, then we have a reason to worry whether the custodians of our land records can be entrusted by the public to keep good straight records,” said Justice Munyao. 

The judgement, delivered on his behalf by Justice John Mutungi, follows a 12-year legal battle between members of the Ol Jorai company and those from Solai Ruiyobei Farm and Lands Limited.

The two groups were claiming ownership of the 8,018-acre parcel of land in Kiambogo area of Gilgil Constituency, Nakuru County, which previously belonged to the Agricultural Development Corporation.

Peter ole Osono and two others had moved to court in 2007 on behalf of Ol Jorai Company Limited and sued Solai Ruiyobei Farm and Lands Limited.

Osono and his group claimed they purchased the land from ADC at Sh10 million and were the registered owner while Solai Ruiyobei claimed to have purchased it at Sh24 million on December 8, 1995.

Osono said he and the rest of the company members have resided on the contentious parcel of land for over 40 years. The court in its judgement ruled that there was no evidence that ADC sold the land to Osono and his group.

A shame

“Evidence is clear that ADC sold the suit land to the second defendant (Solai Ruiyobei Farm Limited),” reads the court judgment.

Munyao said it is a shame that through a letter dated May 25, 2016, one Consolata Namai, on behalf of the director of surveys, purported to forward Registry Index Maps (RIMs) and area list to the District Land Registrar for issuance of titles to members of Ol Jorai Community without authenticating exactly where the sub-plots came from. 

“A simple investigation would have revealed that they purport to emanate from a land parcel that is owned by somebody else and that the title is still intact and has never been surrendered for subdivision,” reads the judgement.

The judge states further that it is a shame and a scandal that through a letter dated August 21, 2014, one SN Mwendwa for the Chief Land Registrar, wrote to the District Land Registrar Naivasha, stating that the mother title had been surrendered and that he could proceed to issue individual titles.

The mother title, according to the court, had never been surrendered and could not have been surrendered for it was under custody of the court. 

“This country should be worried that people can actually proceed to purport to subdivide other people’s land, issue titles and purport to transfer them to other people with the backing of Chief Land Registrar and Director of Surveys,” reads the judgement.

Justice Munyao said he is personally worried at the scandal revealed in the case.

The court said the surveyor and the Land Registrar could not point out exactly what land the over 3,000 sub-plots are claimed to have been subdivided from.

The court said it is disturbed by the evidence of the two officers, which revealed laxity and a laissez faire attitude that land officials take in serious issues of land documentation and ownership.

Priscilla Wango, a land surveyor working with the office of the Director of Surveys, according to the court, could not answer basic questions on the issues that arose in the dispute between the two groups.

Much of her answers were laced with “I do not know.”

“Now if the Director of Surveys does not know what is happening in the survey department, what land is owned by which person or where titles and RIMs and deed plans have come from, then who will have this information?” poses the judgment.

The court said it is the Director of Survey who authorises subdivisions, and keeps maps and plans and who should have the information.

“God help us when the same director through his/her associates states that he/she does not know,” said the judge.

Charles Kipkurui Ngetich, Principal Land Registration Officer who at the time of giving evidence was the acting deputy chief land registrar, could not say whether the title deeds of Ol Jorai Community were authentic or not and blamed lack of records.

“I wonder why such officers are engaged by the state and draw salaries every end of month when they are unable to respond to pretty, basic issues within their dockets,” said Justice Munyao.