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Why lands ministry is going digital soon

 Lands CS Zacharia Mwangi Njeru. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

The High Court has affirmed the Lands ministry's decision to end manual searches and registration of land titles.

High Court judge Anthony Ndung'u has found that the steps by the ministry to digitise land processes was above board.

Justice Ndung'u said stakeholders were consulted before former Cabinet Secretary Faridah Karoney introduced Ardhisasa platform as the new way of registering, searching and transferring land ownership.

According to the judge, digital is the way to go to end land fraud, and promote investor confidence.

"We are in the digital age and that is the way to go. In my view, and having found that the ministry followed a process that was above board, it is easy to see this application as an attempt to resist change and this mirrors this country's past experience in the migration to digital television and the reluctance with which stakeholders took in the uptake of our very own case management system in the Judiciary," said Justice Ndung'u.

The case was filed by lawyer Samuel Gitonga.

He sued Land Cabinet secretary, Attorney General, National Land Commission. He also roped in the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) and Kenya Bankers Association (KBA) as an interested party.

He asked the court to quash the decision to halt manual transactions. At the same time, compel the ministry to run manual and electronic registration system concurrently.

According to him, the ministry never consulted stakeholders before ending manual transactions. He stated that LSK met after concerns that long-term leases were being converted into sectional titles.

Gitonga added that the CS's decision altered the mode of operations at the Nairobi Lands Registry and Central Lands Registry. At the same time, he said, the operations at the Nairobi Lands Registry have stalled since dealings have been digitalised yet the Ardhisasa digital platform is not fully operational.

Revenue loss

He lamented that the platform does not allow registration of law firms as it requires advocates to register as individuals.

The lawyer also claimed that the directive has caused the government loss of revenue since land transactions have stalled.

He asserted that Ardhisasa, like all digital systems, requires a manual backup to run concurrently in the event that the electronic system is rendered ineffective.

 Former Lands CS Farida Karoney. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

The CS and the AG opposed the case.

They argued that the law does not envision a scenario where the manual and digital regimes exist concurrently.

The court also heard that the minister had consulted all relevant stakeholders before coming up with the new system.

According to the minister, the system had more than 36,200 parcels of land uploaded for live transactions within the Nairobi registry and more than 23,787 transactions have taken place.

These include land rent payments, lease processing valuation for stamp duty purpose, stamp duty payments, and registration of transfers, charges, discharges and searches.

The digital platform was likened to the Kenya Revenue Authority's iTax digital platform and National Transport & Safety Authority Tims platform. The court heard that all were successfully launched and fully operational.

The banks' lobby urged the court to allow the case. Kenya Bankers Association argued that there are many challenges when it comes to the effective use of the platform. That if records have not been updated, one cannot pay land rent or obtain a land rent clearance certificate which are required if you are securing a loan with the banks.

It further argued that similarly, one cannot register a charge if these records have not been updated on the platform. The association told the court that there should be a hybrid system to ensure that no transaction will be left pending owing to system challenges.

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