Disbanding land boards won’t end corruption

The land sector has over the years been mired in numerous corruption scandals in Kenya.

In most land registries across the country, frustrated elderly men and women can be spotted carrying heaps of documents.

Every one of them has an endless tale of just how their land problems have dragged on for years.

Every lands minister gets into office hoping to end or at least reduce corruption in the crucial sector. Lands Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi is no different. On April 29, Prof Kaimenyi moved in and disbanded all land control boards representing 57 registries.

The move is timely and welcome given the need to tame the rot at these boards. The boards draw their mandate from the Land Control Act and their primary role is controlling transactions on agricultural lands.

Historically, the boards were established to embed some control on native agricultural lands sold by foreigners at exorbitant prices. It is compulsory to obtain consent from the board before undertaking transactions that affect agricultural land.

The written permission is required for sale, transfer, mortgage, exchange or partition where land owners have title deeds.

The application for consent to transact is made to the board in the area where the property is located within six months of agreement.

The composition of the board includes district commissioner (Now Deputy County Commissioner) or a District Officer (Assistant County Commissioner) as the chairperson, two public officers and seven residents who have agricultural lands within the jurisdiction of the board and who are appointed by the Cabinet Secretary.

To fill gaps exploited to advance corruption, the institutional framework of the boards need reforms as opposed to mere staff change. To start with, there is too much ambiguity on the tenure of office of the boards. A term limit should be specified. That way, they can be subjected to appraisals yielding better performance. As it is, their unstated term of stay has yielded lethargy and helped build cartels.

Further, timeliness in regard to discharging their mandates to their clients should be enshrined within their operations to tame laxity. In line with the institutional framework reforms, the agricultural appeals tribunal should be the appellate body.

I believe the provincial and central appeal boards do not meet the stature of a quasi-judicial body thus they could easily be compromised over delivery of impartial and fair administrative justice.