Embakasi property owners sit on gold as grabbers circle
By Mwangi Muiruri | February 27th 2020
Directors of Embakasi Ranching Company want the Lands ministry to issue titles to its shareholders in 100 days under the Rapid Results Initiative.
They say continued delay in dissolving the company and titling their property has opened the door for crooks to steal the land and unbridled graft by government officials.
In January 2018, President Uhuru Kenyatta directed the ministry to dissolve the Nairobi-based company and issue title deeds to the thousands of shareholders within a month, but this is yet to be done.
Embakasi Ranching was established in 1975, initially dealing in dairy and horticultural agribusiness. It was later transformed into a land buying outfit by 1980.
Over the years the firm has been plagued by vicious leadership wrangles fueled by internal and external interests in the vast land holding.
Its current chairman, James Njoroge, says the Lands ministry is now employing divide and rule tactics in the ranch, which is perpetuating land grabbing.
“The ministry has segmented us into three working groups - those willing to co-operate, those with ownership disputes and those totally opposed to the government’s declared formula of titling the land,” he told Home & Away.
The impasse comes to the fore as land prices in the ranch continue to appreciate rapidly.
Last month, investment firm Cytonn said in a report that land prices in Embakasi had shot up by 115.1 per cent since 2011, with an acre retailing at Sh71 million from Sh33 million nine years ago.
It cited the construction of the Eastern Bypass and Outer Ring Road as among the catalysts for the price growth.
Mr Njoroge said since Uhuru’s directive, a further 235 plots have been grabbed “by a corrupt network” that is preparing a titling register without involving the current directors.
“The Lands ministry is engaged in a flawed process of verifying the shareholders’ register since it is working with its own created board of directors and bypassing us as the board legally recognised by the Registrar of Societies,” he said.
The chairman said the ministry has established a caretaker committee that it is referring to as the board and now wants Uhuru to take note and shelve the titling process until several demands are met.
“We want the ministry to engage us and together we table an authentic shareholders’ register, a catalogue of all our assets and liabilities be prepared and the final list of those to be awarded title deeds published for transparency reasons,” Njoroge said.
Lands Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri, however, says the process of vetting the register has been transparent and blames brokers all over the ranch for the impasse.
“It is the government’s most genuine position that we are committed to fulfill the presidential directive of dissolving this ranch and issue title deeds,” he told Home & Away.
“But all sorts of intrigues are being fronted now and then, with some going to court to seek injunctions on grounds that the government has no mandate in meddling in a private company.”
The PS said the government is the duty bearer and for varying reasons can act in the broader interests of the nation and decide to either revoke or suspend the ranch’s licence.
“That is the route we are taking because the government is convinced that it is not for any common good that Embakasi Ranching remains without title deeds. We are aware of the many irregularities that continue to be executed against vulnerable shareholders that include swapping of plots, double allocations as well as outright theft,” he said.
Njoroge dismissed the ministry’s position as condescending and against the spirit of public participation in government decisions.
“This is a pompous way of imposing an illegality on us in the name of fulfilling the president’s directive. Of the 35,000 parcels of land the ministry is floating as the ones to be titled, only 13,000 have since been verified and cleared, with the rest being mired in authenticity controversies,” he said.
The register to be used to title the land, he said, must first be made available and the government compelled to work within the law by engaging the legally accepted board of directors.
“This is not the way to go about governance. The government is working with its own creation of board of directors while ignoring those legally in office. There is no goodwill at all in this titling programme,” he said.
The official said the original shareholders register had 3,500 members while the ministry has compiled one that has 35,000 primary and secondary shareholders, arguing that it was not possible to have had legal transactions that added 27,000 shareholders.
“The Lands ministry has not attempted to clean the shareholders’ register of fraudsters. It has come up with a list that blends the cons and the thieves with the genuine shareholders and has not even attempted to repossess grabbed public utility plots in the maps,” he said.
However, immediate former director Leah Mathenge - who temporarily assumed office after the death of long-serving chairman Mwangi Thuita - backs the register that has 35,000 shareholders.
“The current directors are working with the register that had agricultural lands as opposed to the current situation where many have subdivided their holdings and sold off plots,” she told Home & Away recently.
“The 3,500 figure can only apply between 1975 and 1985. Since then, we have seen the primary shareholders subdivide their land into plots. That an acre can give eight plots explains the rise in members.”
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