Lands ministry should get rid of rogue officers

Lands Cabinet Secretary Alice Wahome at the Kilifi lands office where she made an impromptu visit on Monday. [Marion Kithi, Standard]

The Ministry of Lands domiciled at Ardhi House, Nairobi, is back in the news for all the wrong reasons. Concerns have emerged after some individuals in Nakuru County in possession of what they believed were genuine title deeds discovered they had been dispossessed of their properties. Across the country, many citizens are fighting court battles after discovering their lands have changed ownership without their knowledge.  

The Lands Ministry came into the public limelight in 2014 when the then Cabinet Secretary of Lands, Charity Ngilu, undertook reforms following public outcry. The CS closed the lands registry for ten days during which time an extensive audit was carried out. 

According to the audit, over one million neglected files were discovered stacked in a backroom at Ardhi House. Many land records were either missing or stored haphazardly, an occurrence that led to serious backlogs at Ardhi House and opened major avenues for corruption that became a lifeline for staff in the Lands Ministry.

To solve this perennial problem, digitisation of records was touted as the best antidote. The belief was that computerisation of records would enhance service delivery, eliminate the disappearance of documents, install a file tracking system and guarantee faster results of official searches. Moreover, the government introduced new generation title deeds that were hard to forge due to their unique security features. 

Ten years later, those reforms appear to have achieved little. Indeed, in 2019, the Environment and Lands Court sitting in Nakuru raised serious doubts about the ability of officials in the Lands Ministry to keep records. In a landmark ruling, the court nullified 3,300 title deeds that had been irregularly issued.

Land is an emotive issue in this country. Individuals and communities have gone to war over ownership of land, which is why the Lands Ministry must keep proper records and be above reproach. The ministry should not be the reason Kenyans kill each other over land ownership wrangles. Time is ripe for the government to crack the whip and ensure that all rogue officers at Ardhi House and the Lands ministry's offices countrywide are arrested and prosecuted.

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