MPs probe Sh18.8b court award to firms, people against Lands Commission

Lands Principal Secretary Nixon Korir when he appeared before the Senate Public Accountants Committee at Parliament on August 22, 2023. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Parliament has launched investigations into how seven individuals and companies got Sh18.79 billion award by court against the Ministry of Lands.

Lands Principal Secretary Nixon Korir dropped the bombshell of the mega awards yesterday and tabled a document showing the total Sh19.7 billion court awards issued against the ministry.

The seven companies and individuals were awarded 18.79 billion while another 18 companies were left to share out the remaining Sh950 million.

The seven claims were made between 2013 and 2021 where the biggest beneficiary was Orbit Chemical Ltd, which was awarded Sh6 billion.

The other six are Pius Kibet Tott & another Sh4.5 billion, Arnagherry Ltd Sh1 billion, Mike Maina Kamau Sh711.6 million, Thomas Mbugua & another Sh421 million and Small Wonder Ltd Sh326.5 million.

Orbit Chemicals had been battling with squatters in Mukuru, Nairobi in another case over the 95 acre piece of land it had purchased from National Bank of Kenya for Sh10 million in March 1987. It has finally be cleared by the court to evict the squatters.

Pius Kibet Tott & another were claiming 1,500 acre-land which covers close to a third of Eldoret town including Langas Estate, a home to more than 200,000 residents.

Tott went to court as the administrator of the estate of Kiptot Arap Sitienei (deceased) and was suing with the authority of Paul Cheruiyot Bittok and Samwel Bittok, who were heirs and administrators of the estate of Joseph Arap Korir (deceased).

The deceased persons bought the land in 1964 and after getting a loan from Kenya Land and Agricultural Bank and Agricultural Finance Company, which they cleared on October 29, 2001.

They went to court claiming to have lost 1,050 acres of prime land worth Sh7.7 billion and demanded compensation for the loss of Shs1,089,799,200 for loss of user of the suit land from 1984. The court awarded the petitioners compensation of Sh4,5 billion plus interest at courts rates accruing from the date of filling the suit to the date of payment.

Others are Rahimkhan Afzalkhan whose award of Sh5.8 billion has not been paid. Afzalkhan went to court after a portion of their land, Mombasa/M.S/Diani Beach Block/10 was compulsorily acquired by the government.

The papers presented before the National Assembly Public Accounts Committee also showed Arnagherry Ltd was awarded Sh1 billion. The firm had purchased two pieces of land, LR No.5712 and LR No.6136 in Kitale west measuring 1784 acres.

Sometime in December 1983, the farm was allegedly invaded by goons who forcefully ejected the farm manager, employees and members of Lutta family. The invaders looted the farm of its equipment, animals, and crops and destroyed the family and workers’ residences. The invaders settled on the said property.

The company went to court seeking Sh1.7 billion for loss of property and earning which they were awarded by Justice Isaac Lenaola on October 17, 2014.

At the same time, Mike Maina Kamau sued the government in 2011 for illegal demolition of his house on L.R. No. 15045/4. On November 29, 2011 he was awarded Sh711,588,204 plus interests at court rates from the date of the judgment till payment in full and costs of the suit.

The other award presented in Parliament was of Thomas Mbugua & another of Sh421 million. They had gone to court seeking Sh420,000,000 for the land, Kilifi/jimba/338.

Small Wonder Ltd which is waiting to be paid Sh325.6 million had sued the government in 2002 complaining that that its rights to Plot No. 644 measuring about 8.677 hectares had been taken away by the Commissioner of Lands.  

The PS appeared before the National Assembly Public Accounts Committee, which was considering the Auditor General report on the accounts of the Ministry of Lands for the year ended June 30, 2022.

The Auditor General had raised a query over the delayed payment of legal claims by the ministry which was accruing interest.

PAC chairman John Mbadi directed that the ministry gives details on the multi-billion shilling claims within 21 days. “There are some seven companies and individuals who have taken a huge chunk of the claims. We want to know what occasioned these claims and the court awards listed herein,” said Mbadi.

“We are aware legal claims are being used fraudulently and as an avenue to steal from Kenyans. More details are needed to ascertain that what we are paying for is genuine,” he added.

Funyula MP Wilberforce Ouda alleged that the High Court awards against the ministry were a result of collusion between the office of the Attorney General and the claimants so that the cases are not properly represented and money paid out.

“As a committee, we also want to know the criteria your ministry uses to pay out the legal claims because we can see that some cases in 2018 are fully paid while others in 2005 are not paid and others in 2016 partly paid,” observed Ouda.

Kiplagat sought to know why the ministry had not appealed the majority of the cases claiming that either the ministry had a very weak legal team or they were in collusion with the claimants.

PS Korir, in his defence, told the watchdog committee that budgetary constraints had hindered the ministry from paying the pending legal claims and that rogue and fraudulent officials were behind the court cases and awards.

“Some of these cases emanate from omissions and commissions by state officials and also those involved in fraud over the years hence the huge number of pending legal claims,” he said.

Korir also called on Parliament to increase funds towards pending legal claims regretting that only Sh350 million had been allocated in the current financial year against the total bill of Sh19 billion.