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Land owners shut 10 SGR sites as fresh claims of bribery emerge

By Paul Wafula | Published Sun, August 26th 2018 at 00:00, Updated August 25th 2018 at 23:31 GMT +3
Rongai Standard Gauge Railways (SGR) Phase two A, station on 23rd August 2018. Locals residents stop the construction of the station because they were not compensated.[Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

In summary

  • Land owners now shut down nine SGR construction sites over delays in compensation as fresh bribery claims erupt
  • Tug of war   Innocent residents left homeless for months as Kenya Railways, NLC and National Treasury haggle over compensation billions 
  • President Kenyatta’s directive for full payments by end of July amounted to nothing, with residents vowing not to allow more work until they are paid

Land owners have ganged up to stop construction of at least 10 sites on the Nairobi-Naivasha railway line due to delays in compensation.  

More than 1,000 residents of Kajiado have been directly affected by the project, alongside schools, rivers, the forest and the national park.

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Sunday Standard has learnt that behind the compensation delay is a tug of war between officials from Kenya Railways, National Land Commission (NLC) and the National Treasury, which has now drawn in the Office of the President through the Presidential Delivery Unit (PDU).

Land owners say PDU officials have been visiting sites to conduct independent valuation. Any variations of more than 20 per cent are being flagged for further scrutiny with a view of harmonising the awards and preventing fraud.

“PDU officials are conducting a re-verification exercise, but it is too late because some houses have already been demolished and it will be impossible to get an accurate picture,” Fr Francis Ngugi, the chairman of the affected persons in Kajiado said.  

A source familiar with the probe says some Kenya Railways staff bought huge chunks of land along the corridor and are among those awaiting compensation through proxies.

Initially, the land compensation bill for the Nairobi-Naivasha line was estimated at Sh10 billion. When National Treasury auditors questioned this bill, it was scaled down to Sh5 billion.

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Fresh bribery allegations have also erupted as some land owners in cahoots with the surveyors pad the values of their land. But the real people affected by the project continue to suffer in silence and have now decided to take matters in their own hands by blocking all construction work until their voices are heard.

Margaret Leboo says she has not known any other home since she was born 40 years ago. “Officials from the NLC came here in March and gave awards. They promised to pay us within two weeks, but this has turned to more than four months. We have no home, yet we have not been compensated,” she said.

Her mother’s two bed-roomed house stood where the Ngong station is being built. She says the old woman has high blood pressure and is in and out of hospital after she was duped to take the early entry deal only for the government to renege on their part.  

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Cracked walls

A few metres from what used to be their home stands the four-bedroom house of Hesbon Mugami, a retired civil servant. Mugami is not on the list of those to be compensated since his house is more than 300 meters away from the corridor.

Hersbon Mugami,a retired civil servant show the crack on the wall in his four bedroom house on 23rd August 2018 during interview on Standard Gauge Railways (SGR) Phase two A, construction and aftermath. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

However, the blasting of the tunnel about 500 metres away from his home has cracked his Sh10 million house, with some walls now starting to sink.

“The blasting happens day and night and this is what has cracked my house. I was told my house is not within the 300 meters baseline and so I may not be compensated,” he said.

Several houses in his neighborhood at Ndovu lane in Kibiku area have also suffered similar fate. “The blasting was a nightmare for us. We could not sleep at night. There are some women who have come out to say they miscarried due to this disturbance,” Mugami said.

At the Rongai station, the blasting has caused cracks in walls of Oloosirkon primary school, which despite being located more than 600 metres from the construction site, has also suffered.

Samuel Maribet chairman of Oloosirkon primary school in Kajiado,show the crack on the wall primary school on 23rd August 2018 during interview on Standard Gauge Railways (SGR) Phase two A, construction and aftermath. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

“One day, the blasting cracked one of the walls and split the blackboard. If students were in class, it could have been a disaster,” Samuel Maribet, the chairman of the school, said.

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“This is why we stopped all construction work in this area and unless the compensation happens, there will be no more work,” Maribet said.

The school serves more than 350 students. Its management is pondering what to do with them when it opens tomorrow.

“We were promised that repairs will be done before schools open. Students resume tomorrow yet more than 10 classes still have cracks. There are two classes that are extremely damaged and are not in a usable state,” he said.   

The Chinese contractors say they are investigating the complaints and will compensate the school if it is found that the blasting caused the cracks. They are also planning a number of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, among them two roads and a borehole to serve the community.

Some of the affected landowners in six areas — Tuala, Scheme 6, Lower Nkoroi, Olmerijo, Ole Polos, Bulbul and Kibiko area — are also threatening to take legal action against the State. “More than 1,000 residents were affected when this project began. These are people who have made huge investments on the land,” a demand letter by Naikuni, Ngaah and Miencha advocates reads in part. The law firm says its clients were coerced and intimidated into accepting the project. “They were shown a sketchy valuation and asked to sign the awards for compensation. Despite all this, our clients are reliably informed that 70 per cent of the SGR has commenced and accomplished yet there has been no payment in any form save for unfulfilled promises,” the demand letter states. It wants the Chinese contractor to stop giving resident the early entry awards.

Violent protests

“The contractor must stop coercing, forcing and compelling people for early entry prior to any signing of the awards and payments. This concept is applicable in open fields such as the national parks, but not on individual land holdings,” the demand letter adds.

Affected land owners started agitating for their pay early in the year. The demonstrations got ugly when President Kenyatta went to Naivasha to inspect the construction progress.

Following the protests, he ordered land officials to pay all people affected by the project by the end of July. But this is yet to happen in Kajiado, where at least two railway stations and the longest tunnel is situated.

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Following Uhuru’s directive, the Ministry of Lands, NLC and Kenya Railways said they had deployed land surveyors and valuers to various sites along the Nairobi – Naivasha SGR (Phase 2A) route to fast track land acquisition and compensation process.

Before his suspension, Kenya Railways boss Atanas Maina said the surveyors and valuers would be on the ground for two weeks to facilitate payments.

Kenya Railways is responsible for determining and surveying the land required for the project, after which the Ministry of Lands provides a pricing index for compulsory acquisition. NLC undertakes valuation and makes payment to the People Affected by the Project (PAPs.) Delays in compensation have led to frequent disruptions on the SGRline, in what threatens the construction timelines. Some of the protests have ended up with casualties. 

They have also put at risk lives of the Chinese workers who are now under police protection. Some Chinese engineers who were working at the Rongai station have been flown back to China to prevent any further unnecessary labour expenses, until the stalemate that is running into the second month is resolved.

Fr Ngugi insists that there will be no more work in the county until everyone is compensated. His team has organised small groups to monitor the various construction sites to ensure the sites remain blocked day and night.

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