| Caroline Mango
National Land Commission chair, Professor Mohammed Swazuri, says nothing stands in the way of his commission implementing the explosive Ndung’u Report on land without “fear or favour” against some of the most prominent and powerful personalities in the country.
The chairman insists that there will not be ‘piecemeal or selective’ solutions as it seeks to exercise its mandate under the new constitution. He asserts that all public officials or persons and professionals, whether serving in the current government or past regimes, who facilitated or participated in the illegal allocation of public land, will be investigated and prosecuted in accordance with land laws.
Alive to the ‘heat’ that is the Ndung’u Report because of the influential names it lists as being involved in illegal acquisition of public land, Prof. Swazuri says the National Land Commission (NLC)’s ammunition will be the law.
The 2004 report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Illegal Allocations of Public Land chaired by lawyer Paul Ndung’u, and popularly known as the “Ndung’u Report”, mentions a raft of former ministers, MPs, judges, civil servants and military officers as having acquired land illegally. It also alleges that the family of President Uhuru Kenyatta and former presidents Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki illegally acquired chunks of prime land and public utilities along the Coastal strip.
The report recommends that the large majority of such awards be revoked, a recommendation that is now well covered in the mandate of the Swazuri commission, as envisaged in the new constitution.
When asked by Coast This Week whether the NLC would be bold enough to investigate President Uhuru and/or his family based on sections of the Ndung’u report which suggest that the President’s family owns over half the Coast region, Prof. Swazuri said: “We are dealing with the law here. Everything is in black and white. This is no big deal. Former President (Moi) has surrendered land voluntarily in Kwale and the serving Vice President (Ruto) has lost land to a citizen of this country through a court of law. The law does not look at who Uhuru is or who Kibaki is, and that should demonstrate that this is not a witch hunting mission.”
The Ndung’u Report’s recommends a process of revocation and rectification of titles in the country, computerization of land records which should be made available to the public for inspection and the establishment of a Land Commission and revocation of the powers of the President and Commissioner of Lands to allocate land as some of the far reaching steps that have now been envisaged in the laws that govern land issues in the country.
Other powerful provisions within the new laws that govern the independent government commission, is for instance, the Land Act 2012 which empowers the state to ‘acquire any title or other interests in land for a public purpose subject to prompt payment of compensation’. The Act also stipulates that private land can be converted into public land through compulsory acquisition, reversion of leasehold interest to government after expiry, transfers or surrender.
Land owners at the Coast who include prominent Arab and Asian families including Swaleh Nguru, the Mazrui dynasty and Abdallah Baghoza are hopeful that the commission will be fair to all those involved and take proper action on those who continue to enjoy ‘ill gotten wealth from fake title deeds.
“The Commission must scrutinize afresh, all title deeds and clean the system that has given these people (grabbers) an easy time, always running along the corridors of justice, every time they are about to be unmasked,” says Munir Mazrui. “Authentication of title deeds will be a very important exercise which will also protect those who acquired land through the right legal processes like myself.”
Prominent Mombasa lawyer and political activist Abubakar Yusuf says the commission has the constitutional and legal framework to discharge its mandate. Yusuf however says the challenge lies on the individual ability by the commission to be bold enough to face the ‘land grabbers’ and take action without fear.
“Land grabbers, whether in this or past regimes, will not sit and fold their arms to wait for Swazuri’s commission or return land they grabbed from poor people,” he says. “The problem if you ask me has never been the law. The problems lie in the implementation of reports that are in public domain and which continue to gather dust in government shelves simply because the forces behind land grabbing have been able to maintain status quo.”
Prof. Swazuri says the commission appreciates the fact that its mandate will face major challenges like transfer of ownership of land but adds that they are empowered to seek correct information, a provision that will allow them trace back documents and refer to various sources.
But critics feel that the national government is clearly by design, interfering and undermining the commission’s purpose which was to work hand in hand with county governments. In response, Prof. Swazuri says that even though the commission is faced with the major issue of under-funding, there is no interference by the national government; notwithstanding the move by the Ministry of Lands to issue over 60,000 title deeds, and more recently, the summoning of all county registrars and their deputies in Nairobi to ‘take stock and facilitate transition’ of land titles.
“The commission was formed under the former President and so far, we feel that the Jubilee government is committed in solving the land issues not only at the Coast but the country as a whole. So far, we are clear and ready to undertake our mandate without fear or favor,” says Prof. Swazuri.