Huge payout for Mau big shots

Saturday December 19 2009

 

By MURITHI MUTIGA

Political heavyweights who were allocated thousands of hectares of forestland are set to receive up to Sh2 billion in compensation, the Sunday Nation can reveal.

The big shots, who were the main beneficiaries of the excision of the Mau forest complex, will be paid for their vast holdings in the forest because they have title deeds proving ownership.

The payouts are likely to be controversial because most of the big shots who own land in the Mau are well connected Moi-era politicians and civil servants who used their offices to acquire the land irregularly, according to the Ndungú Commission of Inquiry.

Former Kabete MP Paul Muite described the payment plan as an outrage.

“One day when power is in the hands of reformers, those who are paying and those who are receiving will have to refund the money to ordinary Kenyans.”

Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission board member Billow Kerrow said the proposed compensation package would set a bad precedent.

“The trend emerging is that it has become a reality in this country that big time corruption is no longer deemed to be social injustice. You will be punished for small-time corruption but when you are in the big league, you are sure you will get away with it,” said Mr Kerrow.

A valuation report prepared for the government by the United Nations Environment Programme places the value of the land for which it could find titles at Sh1.5 billion.

That figure excludes the value of buildings constructed on the land, which could push the value much higher. It also does not take into account the value of land holdings registered in the names of companies whose files cannot be traced at the registry.

A senior government official, who declined to speak on the record on the matter because an official statement will only be released after the Cabinet meets this week, confirmed the government would pay all those with titles.

Among those named as beneficiaries of the allocations is former President Moi who is associated with the extensive Kiptagich tea estate in the Mau.

The value of the land, including tea bushes, is placed at between Sh150,000 and Sh300,000 per acre. If the compensation plan goes ahead, he will receive up to Sh760 million.

Three companies associated with Mr Moi’s former personal assistant Joshua Kulei, Sian Enterprises, Chemusiam Farm and Chemusian Tea Estate Ltd, are set to receive over Sh313 million.

Other beneficiaries named in the report are Cabinet minister Franklin Bett, who is listed together with two others as owning holdings worth Sh151 million.

Former Baringo District Kanu official Hosea Kiplagat is in line to receive Sh184 million while former Internal Security Permanent Secretary Zakayo Cheruiyot’s land is valued at Sh40 million.

Owning land

Former Lands Commissioner and current Baringo MP Sammy Mwaita is listed as owning land worth Sh15 million.

Mr Mwaita was named in the Ndung’u Report as having abused his office during his tenure at Lands. President Moi’s son, Gideon, is in line to receive Sh33 million, according to the report.

The issue of compensation of the wealthy land owners is likely to be a politically loaded one. It comes at a time when the nation is facing the worst food shortfall in its history after the short rains proved disappointing.

That means the country’s farmers will struggle to improve output in the New Year to stave off another round of starvation-related deaths.

Leaders from the Rift Valley province allied to Agriculture minister William Ruto have been lobbying hard for Mau land owners to be compensated.

On Friday, Mr Ruto said leaders from the province had met President Kibaki and agreed he would direct Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta to allocate funds for compensation of Mau evictees and the purchase of land for their resettlement. 

Mr Ruto also attacked Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s position on the matter.

“He has a family with a home, food and a warm bed to retire to yet he is subjecting the poor and vulnerable, including children, pregnant women and the elderly, to inhuman conditions,” he said.

Mr Odinga’s office released a statement dismissing Mr Ruto’s stance.

“Both the President and the Prime Minister are sensitive to the fact that various groups evicted from their homes in the pre- and post-election violence of 1991, 1992, 1993, 1997, 2002 and 2007 are still living in some temporary settlements or as squatters in lands they don’t own,” read the statement, signed by Mr Dennis Onyango, the director of communications in the PM’s office.

Mr Onyango said the President and PM were working together on resettling the evictees and the process should not be used to “give political mileage to any individual, community or group’’.

The PM’s adviser on coalition affairs Miguna Miguna accused Mr Ruto of playing politics on the matter and told the Sunday Nation that the wealthy land owners would not be paid.

“The PM has stated over and again that all the water towers, starting with the Mau -- which is the biggest -- shall be fully restored. Pursuant to the Mau taskforce report, unanimously adopted by the Cabinet and passed by Parliament, relocation and resettlements will be done in accordance with the law,” he said.

“Those who qualify for compensation and resettlement shall be compensated and resettled. However, the big land grabbers shall not get a penny because they are economic criminals.”

Genuine titles

Another government official contradicted this stand.

“We are bound by the agreement in Parliament that those with genuine titles will be paid so we have no alternative on this,” he said. The suggestion that the government is obligated to pay wealthy land owners who benefited from the allocations is legally contentious.

The Ndung’u Report argued that the allocations were the result of illegal excision of forest land and said all the allocations should be cancelled, whether land owners hold titles or not.

“The over-arching finding of the commission,” the report says, “is that most excisions of forestland were done without technical consideration of the social, economic and ecological implications.”

The commission dismissed the claim that the title deeds cannot be revoked.

Common law

“(There is) no such concept at common law as “absolute” title. The availability of rectification and revocation (in both the Registration of Titles Act and the Registered Land Act) emphasises the principle that titles are relative, not absolute, and that no title is completely free from the danger that some better right to land may be established.”

On Saturday, Mr Muite endorsed this view and opposed compensation for any land owners in the Mau.

“The constitution confers power on the president and commissioner of lands to give out public land.

“This constitutional power is supposed to be exercised for the benefit of the public. The land is held in trust for Kenyans. If you use that power to dish out public land to your cronies, you have betrayed the trust of the public and will be carrying out an illegality.”