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Why NLC shelved decision on Weston Hotel land

NAIROBI
By Cyrus Ombati and Geoffrey Mosoku | December 21st 2018
Weston Hotel along Lang'ata road. [File, Standard]

Divided commissioners of a lands agency were yesterday unable to reach a verdict on the disputed ownership of land on which a hotel associated with Deputy President William Ruto sits.

A resolution on the land where Weston Hotel is located aborted and the National Lands Commission (NLC) instead postponed the crucial decision to February next year, when the agency's eight commissioners are scheduled to leave office.

The commission met for almost five hours yesterday to discuss the Weston Hotel land, another said to have been leased out to Delmonte in Kiambu County and other administrative issues.

The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) claims ownership of the land on which Weston Hotel sits but yesterday, commissioners disagreed on the way forward.

According to insiders, one group vouched for the revocation of the title deed but the other rooted for compensation for the land at the current market rate.

The conflicting decisions were reportedly based on a preliminary finding that the land belonged to the Government, a claim The Standard could not independently verify. The disagreements forced the commissioners to shelve the planned vote on the issue.

“The determination will be made in February, as there are issues that have not been agreed upon by the commissioners. Some want the title revoked, while others want the owner to be ordered to compensate the Government at market rate (of about Sh200 million),” said an insider aware of the progress.

Commission vice chairperson Abigael Mbagaya chaired the meeting, given that Chairman Muhammad Swazuri is barred by a court order from participating in NLC meetings due a corruption case he is facing.

Others present were Abdulkadir Khalif, Clement Lenachuru, Emma Muthoni Njogu, Rose Musyoka, Samuel Tororei, Silas Kinoti and Tomiik Konyimbih.

The draft report had been prepared reportedly recommending that the title for Weston Hotel be revoked. 

The commission was to discuss the issue before notifying parties to the matter -KCAA and Weston.

Had the report been adopted in its draft form, and members appended their signatures, then Ruto would have lost the land. That would have left the Deputy President with the option of challenging the decision at the High Court. 

KCAA, too, would have had the right to appeal were the decision not be in its favour. Yesterday, Ms Mbagaya refused to comment on the issue, asking reporters to should be patient till February. 

And after the issue was shelved, the commission turned its attention to the Delmonte land issue, with parties giving submissions.

The commission also revoked the appointment of NLC acting Chief Executive Officer David Kuria and replaced him with Human Resource head Kabale Arero Tache.

Prof Kuria had been at loggerheads with the commission on whether to put some staff there on contract or on permanent terms.

Kuria will now remain the head of land information management system. He was named acting CEO in August when the former holder of the position, Tom Chavangi, was arraigned over various issues with regard to the Standard Gauge Railway compensation. 

During public hearings in October, Ruto defended his acquisition of the land along Langata Road, saying he had bought it legitimately. The DP has already acquired a Sh1.3 billion loan using the title.

Ruto, his wife Rachel Chebet Kimeto and daughter Charlene Chelagat Ruto are listed as directors of Weston Hotel Limited.

Ruto - through lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi - denied irregularly acquiring the land, saying no one had ever claimed the property since he acquired it. He said  he did not receive any complaint from the State or an individual during the hotel's construction.

He said he acquired the land in 2007 for Sh10 million from its registered owners - Priority Management Ltd and Monene investments limited.

Priority Management Ltd and Monene investments limited had been allocate the 1.7-acre land on January 5, 1998 for a period of 99 years to develop residential flats and apartments after paying a Stand Premium of Sh320,000.

The two firms got the title for the land in 2002 before transferring it to Weston Hotel on June 13, 2007. Weston then applied for change of user, which was approved.

“Our client is a bona fide purchaser for value. If there is any defect on the title, our client was not aware of it. The allottee has a valid grant obtained from Government, on which was endorsed the transfer to our client,” the lawyer said.

KCAA told NLC a cartel operating in the Lands ministry, working in cahoots with its own officers, conspired to relinquish the land for an alternative land in Embakasi.

“The KCAA management and the board has never at any one time consented, agreed, relinquished, surrendered or ceded the plot by way of sale, transfer, gifting or otherwise given it to any other person,” KCAA’s lawyer Cyril Wayong’o said.

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