Kenya is in the process of establishing a land bank to serve as a one-stop shop for investors seeking to obtain public land for public/private development partnerships.
Lands Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri said the process has been marked as urgent and is billed as the solution that will cut the time it takes for government to issue land to public/private pacts.
“One of the major challenges that we have been experiencing in securing and honouring such pacts is lack of authenticated records of available public lands. We have not been monitoring developments in most of our public lands and we only come to realise it was either grabbed or booked for other projects the moment we start the process of issuing it out,” he said.
He further said his ministry’s agenda is to hasten housing development through fast tracking processes of title deeds, developing infrastructure in low income neighbourhoods opening up land for housing development alongside inviting the private developers to partner with the government through private public partnership.
To harmonise the situation, Dr Muraguri said his ministry is partnering with the National Lands Commission (NLC) and all ministries that are custodians of public land to establish an updated land data bank.
Muraguri said a number of public institutions hold more land than they require.
He cited the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, Kenya Railways, Portland Cement, Numerical Machining Complex, the International Livestock Research Institute, Kenya Prisons, universities and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock as some institutions that have vast tracts of land under them.
“Some of the institutions’ lands happen to be very strategic and prime yet government projects lack space while members of the public consider the lands idle, hence subject to invasions and squatter settlements,” he says.
He added that once negotiations with investors seeking land to host their projects get underway, it gets tasking to acquire such land.
He says they run into court cases, and in other instances, politics erupt with squatters and other forces accusing the government of attempting to displace people from their settlements.
Muraguri said county governments do not also know for sure which lands within their jurisdiction are under their management, thus creating conflict between the central government and the devolved units when it comes to acquiring land for development.
In that light, Muraguri said a task force will be mandated to start the process by executing an institutional land audit and limit ownership to the necessary bare minimum based on land use guidelines.
He said establishing a national land bank will support the Big Four Agenda — rejuvenation of the agricultural sector, establishment of value addition villages, improved healthcare and attaining food security — of the government.
NLC member Esther Murugi says the joint cooperation will facilitate carrying out of a sensitisation programme to relevant government departments since “land banking is not a familiar concept to land administrators and managers of public land, whether at national or county level”.
Ms Murugi said the guideline to establishing the land bank in the country has been in abeyance since 1999 when the National Land Policy (Session paper 3) was adopted by the cabinet.
She said the process has not had any urgency since not many officers in the country know how it works.
“In simple terms, we will be seeking to arm them with the knowledge that the core purpose of this land bank that we seek to establish is for purposes of enabling a centralised way for the government to take charge of known geo-referenced pieces of land for access by investors and government projects,” said the former Nyeri town MP.
She said that creating land banks from the government requires prudent land administration and management measures, with institutions legally mandated at county and national level to effectively manage an allocated public land.
She called on the Lands ministry to preside over legislation to guide the process of acquiring land considering that purchased land may have to be released to investors at attractive rates.
Murugi said the process, if not managed well, has the potential of fuelling conflicts between the central and county governments as well as communities.
“The guiding policy in this should be to repurpose an inventory of underutilised, abandoned or foreclosed properties in the country that is directly under the central of county governments. It means this process must be a joint venture between county and central government,” she said.
Council of Governors’ Deputy Chair Mwangi wa Iria said the move will be supported by all governors.
“We have been briefed and we have an idea of what this whole exercise pertains. It is a good project and we will support it,” he said.
He said critical elements that guarantee successful implementation of land bank initiatives will be adhered to.
“We only need to make sure that the land bank is policy driven and transparent in policies and transactions. We should at all times remain cognizant of the fact that the public for good reason is often suspicious of any government role in holding on to land,” he said.
Wa Iria said the breakthrough in winning public trust is by building public confidence in a land bank by way of adopting well considered policies and priorities that govern to whom and for what purpose properties held by the government are sold or transferred.
He said that emphasising community engagement and participation in dealings of all parcels under the land bank is critical.
“The most successful land banks carry along the neighbouring communities to such lands. Those neighbours must have a formal voice in policy and operations. By formalising that process, through regular neighbourhood meetings, and in some cases with the formation of a Community Advisory Council, our project will get off the starting blocks well cut for successful implementation,” he said.