Bureaucratic processes in the Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning have been cited as a stumbling block to the government’s Big Four agenda on affordable housing.
The long process of accessing land information or getting a title for a project is not only making housing expensive but also discouraging developers from investing in real estate.
Housing and Urban Development Principal Secretary Charles Hinga has termed the hiccups ‘the elephant in the room’.
The PS said there is need for common sense to prevail in some of the processes so that financial institutions can gain some level of trust.
“They have plenty of money but without sanctity of titles they will not invest. They won’t,” he said in reference to housing developers.
“There are banks here that have financed housing schemes; they are complete and they have people ready to buy those houses but they can’t because of the titling process.”
Mr Hinga argued that if the process was taking two or three weeks, it would be understandable but in some cases it takes years.
The PS, while speaking during the just concluded Affordable Housing Conference by the Kenya Mortgage Refinance Company (KMRC), said delays at the Lands ministry inconvenience financial institutions on how they run their business.
He said when banks invest their depositors’ money, they expect a return for themselves and their customers as well.
It then becomes a challenge when financial institutions have deployed money to put up a project that ends up taking two or three years for the developer to exit.
“So you know what happens with these financial institutions? They do not say to the developer ‘I feel for you. It is not your mistake (but) these people in Lands.’ What they do, they keep on charging interest and it is compounded,” said Hinga.
He said with the compounded interest, the developer has no choice but to also pass the cost to the buyer since it is not their fault that the units delayed getting into the market.
“Guess who he is going to pass to? The poor Kenyans. That is an own goal that we can agree we need to stop scoring,” the PS said.
“I have been a victim of that process even in government. The process is too long.”
Hinga said a lot of the processes do not add value as they are only the way things are done.
From his experience, for a title to be released it needs the Cabinet Secretary in charge of Lands to sign, then National Lands Commission will verify the signature before again the commission goes back to the CS for stamping.
Again after the stamp, the CS has to seek opinion.
“It does not make sense. Why don’t you make the CS put a signature once because he or she has a lot of other things to do?” suggested Hinga.
Chief Government Valuer Jacinta Mutua, who represented Lands Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri at the conference, said a lot of patience is needed as the country is transitioning to digital records from manual.
She esaid land administration is a process and the essence is to preserve the details of land parcels, records and provide data to the relevant stakeholders in an efficient manner.
Ms Mutua said Kenya borrowed its land administration from the colonial system, which was heavily manual and made access to land information difficult.
For instance, the previous Kenya cadastral system comprised of different types of maps, with registry index maps being dominant.
Mutua acknowledged that the land market is intertwined with housing and as a result, inefficiency in the land market is carried over to housing.
Expensive access to land means more people are unable to access houses through the formal system.
Mutua agreed that there has been a disconnect between land administration and the delivery of affordable housing, even as land costs continue to constitute a larger component of affordable housing.
As such affordable housing, should be considered in tandem with cost of land.
She said while efficient land administration is the responsibility of the Lands ministry, the ministry has worked well with the Housing ministry, especially on valuation.
“For valuation we have worked very well with you. We have been very efficient with your department,” said Mutua.
The government valuer, however, admitted there have been challenges.
“Our services have not been as efficient as we at the ministry would like them to be. The biggest problem has been the registration of land under so many laws,” said Mutua.
She cited the 2010 Constitution, which asked the government to consolidate all these laws and have land registered under the Land Act and Land Registration Act, which is already done.
“Remember we used to have Registration of Titles Act, Government Land Act, and so many Acts so you would come to the Lands office and you are told ‘your property is registered in Mombasa you can you go there’ because we do not have a harmonised form of registration,” said Mutua.
She cited this as one of the challenges the ministry faces in land titling process.
She says to move from Registration of Title Act to Land Registration Act, conversion has to be done under the Registry Index Map.
“We still deal with manual records, which we are struggling to retrieve. You can imagine since independence how much records we have,” she said.