Owning idle land to become costly

Tuesday November 3 2009

By JOHN NGIRACHU

Owning idle land anywhere in Kenya will soon be very expensive if new rules governing land use are adopted.

One will be required to have a plan for its use before the purchase is allowed.

The tendency to buy land for speculation or for future development, described as the ownership of land as an end in itself, is also set to be eliminated if MPs pass the new land policy.

Lands permanent secretary Dorothy Angote said on Tuesday the ministry had come up with a sessional paper that would be tabled for discussion by MPs when Parliament re-opens next week.

Speaking after the inauguration of the board of the National Housing Corporation (NHC), Ms Angote said the new land laws would make it impossible for individuals to “buy and colonise land” without making adequate use of it.

“We want Kenyans to move away from buying land and having it as an end in itself. People assume the acquisition of land is like the accumulation of medals to be worn on the chest,” said Ms Angote.

To correct this, according to the policy, the government will apply the unimproved site value and improvement value taxation in urban areas and introduce a levy for undeveloped land.

Ms Angote said the existence of several laws that govern ownership and control of land, some of them conflicting, had led to the under-development of land for farming and in urban areas it had contributed to inadequate space for housing projects.

The policy paper attributes some of the land problems on colonisation, which it says “introduced an alien concept of property relations in Kenya, where the State or the protectorate as a political entity came to own land and grant users subsidiary rights”.

This is the basis of the leasehold system under which land in urban areas is allocated. Rates are charged to those with land for which they hold leases.

NHC attributes its slow development of new houses, especially in urban areas, on the high cost of land and purchase of land.

The corporation has in the past five years built a mere 200 houses per year, a situation described by Housing minister Soita Shitanda as laughable since demand exceeds this.