NAIROBI, KENYA: Thousands of land and property owners could lose their prized investments as an official audit has exposed irregularities in 180,000 land leases.
A Government-appointed team has recommended that 10,698 leases running into thousands of hectares spread across 24 counties renewed between 2010 and 2012 be revoked.
Laikipia County, which has witnessed bloody conflict following invasion of private ranches by armed herders, is among regions where leases were granted during that period.
In addition, 173,326 files have scanty records, which means genuine land owners are at risk of losing their property to fraudsters or corrupt officials could have illegally allocated the land.
The report details leases for hundreds of thousands of hectares of land worth billions of shillings that have expired and warns about opaque renewals and extensions facilitated by corrupt officials.
A task force formed by Lands Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi in February to investigate the processing of extension and renewal of leases in the country since 2010 presented the report last week.
It indicts some employees at the Lands ministry and Survey of Kenya for messing up the land sector citing in certain cases that some registrars, despite being the custodians of land records, did not know the exact status of leases in their areas.
The task force has recommended that leases renewed from 2010-2012 before establishment of the National Land Commission and county governments should be revoked.
It notes that from the review of the correspondence files that most of the renewals and extensions done within this period either did not follow the full process, or have some documents missing in the files.
“This task force considers any extensions and renewals that did not follow the law in the period 2010-2012 as it was, are illegal/irregular. Renewals and extensions that were fraudulently procured are unlawful and should be revoked,” reads the report.
Citing records from the Survey of Kenya, the report gives a breakdown of the targeted 351 leases renewed or extended since 2010, with most of those set to lose investments in urban centres where land is expensive.
Nairobi County has the highest number at 290.
There have been reports of people being evicted from their houses in prime locations in the city following leases being renewed behind their backs.
It is followed by Nakuru (12) and Malindi (6).
Mombasa, Kiambu and Uasin Gishu have five cases each.
Nyeri, Trans Nzioa and Kisumu have three cases of leases earmarked for revocation while Nandi, Taita Taveta and Kisii have two each.
The report identifies at least one such case in 12 other counties.
According to the report, most of the fraud happens at the Senior Plans Records Office (SPRO) at Ardhi House, the Lands ministry headquarters.
From 236,587 records reviewed at the SPRO, there were 173,326 cases of unclassified data with file numbers and 10,698 leases renewed from 2010 had the term w.e.f (with effect from) yet there is no exact date.
The team, chaired by land expert Ibrahim Mwathane also recommends that renewals that are a product of innocent/negligent mistakes on the part of officers or applicants like wrong forms are irregular and should be subjected to review.
The report notes large-scale investors are controlling vast land with a term of up to 999 years.
Most of these leases originally held by foreigners are concentrated in Kericho, Nandi, Eldoret and Laikipia.
The team found foreigners had devised a method to beat the constitutional requirement that would have compelled them to surrender the land.
“The task force observed that it is quite possible that most of the foreign companies may have relinquished their shareholding to citizens in order to retain the nine hundred and ninety nine (999) year terms,” says the report.
There has been an outcry by the neighbouring local communities to have the land converted from 999 years to 99-year terms.
In addition, the report observes, the communities feel that the leases should not be renewed or extended, but should instead revert to the counties, to be held in trust for the communities.
In March, Tristan Voorspuy, a British citizen, was killed at his Sosian ranch by pastoral herders who had invaded farms in Laikipia.
The report shows 448 leases have been renewed in Laikipia since 2010 but records don’t show the duration of the leases.
The task force observed that while the National Land Policy provides that the duration of all leases should not exceed 99 years, the Constitution and the subsequent land laws only limit this requirement to non-citizens.
The Constitution and the laws are silent on the matter of 999-year leases held by citizens.
But the counties’ land registries also reveal more cases of renewal of land leases since 2010.
Lamu and Makueni have 226 and 191 new leases for 99 years since 2010.
In Nyeri, 18 renewals for 33 years are in progress while seven extensions for 99 years are being processed.
In Kwale, there are 26 leases for 50 and 99 years registered between 2012-2013 and it has not been indicated whether they are extensions, renewals or new leases.
The report also shows that in Kajiado, 41 new leases have been done since 2010 yet they don’t show the duration of the lease.
In Nyamira, there are 136 unexpired leases, 29 expired leases and 165 registered leases while in Embu, 113 leases are not registered.
The report further shows that in Koibatek, there are three extensions in progress and one renewal in process.
In Kakamega, there are 108 expired and not renewed leases while out of 361 leases in Kitui, 55 have expired and not renewed.
The task force also found out that despite being the custodians of land records, some registrars did not know the exact status of leases in their areas, which was a challenge for the team.
It also found out that despite there being a number of expired leases across the country, the applications for renewal or extension have not been made and where applications have been made, the time taken for processing is too long. The probe found out that information at Survey of Kenya (SoK) shows that 1,222 lease files have records without remarks while 4,168 cases bear the registry index map (RIM) tag without further explanations.
There are instances where staff at the Survey of Kenya offices operate their own deed plan register.
This, the team warns, breeds an opportunity for data duplication, delay in service delivery in case the register owner is unavailable.
At the SPRO, the survey shows there are cards bearing details such as a lease term of three years that were issued in 1985.
Some cards have lease effective commencement dates that are postdated; such as 2054, 2020.
There is also no manual or digital backup of data both at the SoK and SPRO, that can give way to high risk of loss of data.