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Government freezes sale of public assets, renewal of land leases

BUSINESS
By | Jan 21st 2012 | 4 min read
By | January 21st 2012
BUSINESS

By Alex Ndegwa and Willis Oketch

The Government has frozen the renewal of expired land leases and sanctioned a review of those that may have been irregularly renewed.

Also frozen is the disposal of public assets by the Central Government and Local Authorities during the transition when a comprehensive inventory will be undertaken.

Cabinet suspended issuance of new leases for public, private and trust lands until the National Land Commission (NLC) is operational, the Presidential Press Service said in a statement Friday.

The measures are designed to curb the irregular extension of land tenures and guard against the plunder of public assets in the transition to devolved government.

In Mombasa, Lands Minister James Orengo told MPs at a workshop to review draft Land laws that the commission may be in place by the end of March.

The NLC is a constitutional commission established to manage public land on behalf of national and county governments. It has the constitutional mandate to advise the national government on a comprehensive programme for the registration of land titles and recommend a national land policy.

The new Constitution adopted in 2010 automatically terminated the 999-year land leases and limited the leasehold terms at 99 years.

Long-term leases

Orengo has said the long-term leases will be reduced to 99 years without compensation.

He spoke at the forum in Mombasa to brief MPs on the Land Bill and the Land Registration Bill. They are among legislations intended to implement Article 68 of the Constitution to revise, consolidate and rationalise existing Land laws. Further, the Bills provide for the sustainable administration and management of land and land-based resources.

Most of the large agricultural land parcels were leased before independence and others within the two decades that followed thereafter.

The 999-year had been secured in 1915 following sustained pressure from white settlers on the British colonial administration.

The more than 150 MPs attending the consultative forum in Mombasa resolved to fast track historical injustices on land allocation.

The MPs said it was the main issue on land reforms, which made Kenyans embrace and pass the new Constitution.

Most of the MPs from Rift Valley and Coast provinces said they expected the new Constitution to address land allocation injustices immediately. They said cases of irregularly allocated land could not wait for a year as stipulated in the National Land Commission Bill.

They were speaking at the end of the parliamentary workshop on Land Bills at the Pangoni Beach Resort in Mombasa yesterday.

Speaker of the National Assembly Kenneth Marende, Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi, Orengo, and several land experts addressed the forum.

Marende said land matters were so close to the hearts of Kenyans that he had expected the Executive to recall Parliament early to tackle the pending Bills.

"I expected the Executive to recall Parliament early to debate crucial Bills, but there has been no communication on the matter, which makes me believe Parliament will reconvene in the first week of March," Marende said.

Fisheries Development minister and Magarini MP Amason Kingi said victims of historical injustices would not wait for the National Land Commission to recommend to Parliament repossession of irregularly acquired a year after it becomes operational.

"Land issues cannot be postponed as they were the main cause of violence during the last General Election," Kingi said.

Marakwet East MP Jebii Kilimo said owners of trust land, which were acquired irregularly, were being subdivided and sold ahead of the establishment of county governments.

Acquired irregularly

In the new Land Bill, county governments will have powers to revoke allocation of land acquired irregularly and reverted to the community.

"Owners of large tracts of land acquired irregularly have begun subdividing and selling the plots after they realised the new Constitution would put mechanisms of repossessing the land," she said.

She pleaded with Orengo to stop the exercise until the National Land Commission and county governments become operational, to address the historical land injustices.

During the meeting, emotions ran high when Mwatate MP Calist Mwatela and his Wundanyi counterpart Thomas Mwadeghu claimed a certain community owned big chunks of land in Taita Taveta County.

Mwatela hit out at founding President Jomo Kenyatta for having allocated himself and his brother James Muigai most of the land after it was bought from British settlers in 1964.

"The funds to buy land from settlers was released by the British government and it was to revert to the natives, but Kenyatta took it and left locals landless," he said.

Mwadeghu ran into trouble with Kikuyu MP Lewis Nguyai when he claimed only people from Central Province benefited from land at the Coast.

Nguyai cautioned this was blanket condemnation of the community.

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