Courtesy photo of a coffee farm

Hundreds of property buyers in Kiambu are devastated at the prospect of losing land they bought more than eight years ago but for which they did not receive ownership documents.

Their worry revolves around a long-running stand-off between the original owner of the 790-acre parcel, billionaire Stanley Githunguri, and a company linked to clerics-cum-land dealers.

Milele Ventures Ltd, which has reverends as its directors, acquired the land at Sh1.3 million an acre in 2009. They then subdivided it into smaller plots, which they then sold off.

A majority of the buyers were followers of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) and the selling price started from Sh650,000 for a quarter acre. This paints a picture of how lucrative the transaction was for the clergymen and their company.

However, what started as the first step to home ownership for many is now turning to a frustrating wait for the requisite paperwork before any construction work can begin.

One of the buyers told The Standard the group of over 500 had lost patience with the reverends because there is little they can do without the ownership documents. They cannot develop the land, cannot sell or use it as collateral to access credit.

“It has been nearly 10 years of waiting,” said the buyer who talked to The Standard but requested his identity be protected.

His frustrations arise from his belief that the project, being fronted by men of the cloth, would not be riddled with the now-so-common disappointments in property acquisition.

In any case, the clerics were literally selling the plots right from the pulpit with an emphasis on how property ownership was critical in safeguarding one’s future.

Many of those who bought these pieces of land approached banks for loans to finance their acquisition. Each hoping for a piece of what was once among the biggest coffee estates in Kiambu.

Then the wait began. Every time the directors were asked on the progress in processing of title deeds, their response was quick and simple: “Embrace patience as a virtue.”

In one of the latest meetings called by the buyers, directors of Milele Ventures are reported to have snubbed the invite, raising even more fears among the buyers that the deal may have fallen through.

Yesterday, Reverend Francis Njoroge said a small misunderstanding had arisen between Milele and Githunguri over the transaction but the matter had been resolved.

Njoroge, who is currently attached to Kinoo Parish, denied any fraud allegations. He said a deed plan had been finalised, which would facilitate processing of the individual ownership documents for the buyers.

“We have the title deeds with us after clearing the debt,” Njoroge said without disclosing how much the settlement was worth.

Accounts from the buyers suggest that the former Kiambaa MP had demanded about Sh150 million, up from the original Sh21.4 million.

This is because Milele had not settled the balance in 90 days as agreed in the sale agreement.

It would seem the new demand may have been at the heart of the disagreement, even though it was not immediately possible to get a confirmation from Githunguri.

Njoroge termed contention with Githunguri as a “small disagreement”, which has since been settled and once again, confirmed that “the title deed for Tassia Coffee Estate has been released”. But in the years since the sale was initially entered, but not finalised, the 72-year-old retired banker had grown even more impatient with the reverends, more than even the buyers.

In July 2013, Githunguri moved to court seeking compensation for breach of contract after Milele Ventures failed to settle an outstanding balance of Sh21.4 million.

As an alternative, he sought to be allowed to find another buyer for the land, demonstrating to the court that the clerics were either unwilling or unable to complete the transaction.

“He further averred that he is apprehensive that since the defendant/respondent has been unable to pay the balance of the purchase price, they may sell the suit property to unsuspecting third parties,” court documents relating to the suit with Milele Ventures read in part.

Judge Mary Gitumbi disagreed with his plea to have damages awarded, saying such compensation was: “Not always a suitable remedy where the plaintiffs have established a clear legal right or breach.”

Request denied

Since he was still holding the land ownership documents, the court determined that Githunguri had entered an informal charge on the property. As such, delay did not warrant any compensation for damages – handing the reverends the first round of victory.

But the clerics were required to pay the balance, which had been in default to the retired politician, in order to complete transfer of the property as initially planned.

The immensely wealthy career banker had just emerged from another suit over the same land where his commission agent had sued demanding payment for finding the buyer – Milele Ventures.

Githunguri denied ever approaching Propensity Real Estate to help him find a buyer and as such he could not pay the finder’s fee of up to Sh79 million.

Several other Kenyans have claimed to have been duped in acquisition of property, especially being sold by dealers who are also religious leaders.

In the most recent case reported by The Standard, an estimated 7,000 prospective home buyers claim to have been conned into saving in a society that promised them cheap houses.

After years of savings cumulatively exceeding Sh3 billion, the clergyman told them that the homes his company built were for outright sale and at market prices.