President William Ruto's recent directive to transfer land valuation powers from the National Land Commission (NLC) to the Ministry of Lands has sparked a heated debate.
During an interdenominational service at Isiolo Boys' High School, Ruto stated that the Ministry of Lands would take charge of land valuation in the country going forward.
He argued that this move would promote accountability and ensure fairness in land compensation.
Ruto criticised the NLC for its alleged unfair land valuation practices during the compensation process for landowners affected by compulsory land acquisition.
He claimed that the Commission had become corrupt, with land being overvalued or undervalued based on bribery.
In an effort to rectify this, he stated: "I have already instructed the NLC that they will no longer conduct evaluations for land compensation. The Lands Ministry will carry out the valuations to ensure every Kenyan receives their fair share."
However, Constitutional lawyer Shadrack Wambui pointed out that the president does not have the authority to make such changes at the NLC.
According to Wambui, the NLC is an independent office with autonomous powers designed to prevent executive overreach.
He argued that the purpose of the commission is to address historical injustices by either returning land to its rightful owners or providing adequate compensation.
"The NLC has its place in the Constitution with the sole responsibility of addressing historical injustices; ensuring that if land has been taken from you, it is either returned to you or you are given its worth," said Wambui.
Wambui contended that the president's remarks were incorrect and misguided, as they undermined the very purpose for which the NLC was established.
He emphasised that any influence the president could have on the commission's decisions would require a constitutional review.
"The president must have enough justification in law to have the commission under his control," he added.
Wambui avers that if the president wished to pursue this course of action, it would necessitate amending the Constitution, as it would be a disregard for the rule of law.
Article 67 (g) of the Constitution grants the NLC the authority to assess taxes on land and premiums on immovable property in designated areas.
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The Constitution stipulates that any revision of the mandate of a constitutional commission would require a constitutional amendment.
Article 67 further outlines the commission's responsibilities, including managing public land on behalf of the national and county governments, recommending a national land policy, conducting land-related research, and investigating land injustices, among other tasks.
The NLC is one of the constitutional commissions whose mandate is safeguarded by the Constitution.
These commissions operate in accordance with Article 67(3) and work in collaboration with the national and county governments.
Their responsibilities encompass tasks such as land alienation, monitoring land registration, and ensuring sustainable management of public land and land under designated state agencies for present and future generations.