Governor, MPs big winners in Sh1.2bn land rates payout

Thursday April 28 2016

Mombasa County Assembly members debate motion to pay Sh1.25 billion Waitiki land rates for all the people who received title deeds on April 14, 2016. The plan to offset the tax on April 26, 2016 sparked widespread outrage with some leaders urging President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene to stop taxpayers money from going to waste. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Mombasa County Assembly members debate motion to pay Sh1.25 billion Waitiki land rates for all the people who received title deeds on April 14, 2016. The plan to offset the tax on April 26, 2016 sparked widespread outrage with some leaders urging President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene to stop taxpayers money from going to waste. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By MWAKERA MWAJEFA
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A plan by Mombasa County to spend Sh1.25 billion to offset the Waitiki Farm land rates for the 7,600 new owners sparked outrage on Wednesday after it emerged that some of the possible beneficiaries of the payout could be a governor, MPs, more than 10 Members of the County Assembly and senior government officials.

They are among hundreds who in January were given title deeds by the national government, which bought the controversial farm for them from Mr Evanson Kamau Waitiki.

The government asked them to pay Sh182,000 each for 12 years in land rates.

On Wednesday, however, questions were being raised over why the county government opted to pay the fees for all occupants, some of whom are financially stable.

A motion to set aside Sh1.25 billion to clear the rates was passed two weeks ago in the County Assembly with the support of more than 20 MCAs.

It approved payment drawn from the Equalisation Fund at Sh5 million per month for each of the landowners for 23 years.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

Bamburi MCA Riziki Kitsao said on Wednesday he was shocked to learn that some of his colleagues in the Assembly owned part of the land and yet they did not declare their interests during the debate.

“It was morally wrong and illegal for some of our colleagues who own plots at the Waitiki Farm to take part in a motion they had interests in,” said Mr Kitsao over the telephone, adding that interested parties ought to have been honest enough to exempt themselves from the proceedings.

However, his Timbwani counterpart Tom Ogalo, who owns two plots on the farm, said there was nothing wrong with everyone, irrespective of financial status, benefiting from the county government’s magnanimity.

“Some of us are earning zero because some of the people we represent depend on us for survival,” he said, adding that MCAs were facing financial constraints.

Mr Ogalo explained that he bought his plots before he was elected a ward representative and he therefore did not see anything wrong in the county paying his Sh364,000 land rate bill.

He claimed that those who owned plots and palatial houses on the farm included a governor, MPs and senior government officials, whom he declined to name.

National Land Commission chairman Muhammad Swazuri said last week that 3,200 out of the 4,600 beneficiaries of the First Phase had paid their full amounts of Sh582.4 million and demanded details on how the county government would handle the situation, having approved the expenditure.

“Apart from this, different beneficiaries are in different stages of paying their monthly fee since the end of January after receiving their certificates of allotment,” Dr Swazuri said at Thathini Development Company.

WASTE OF TAXPAYERS' MONEY

The Waitiki Settlers Committee chairperson, Mr Abdallah Fuad, questioned the rationale of paying for MPs and MCAs, saying that was a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“If indeed governors, MPs, MCAs and senior government officials will benefit from the payout, then there is something seriously wrong that calls for an urgent meeting between the Governor and us,” he said over the telephone and warned Governor Hassan Joho to guard against fraud.

“When you hear well-placed people are some of the beneficiaries, then you smell a rat.”

He appealed to President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene.

One of those who voted for the motion, Changamwe MCA Jimmy Odari, said he would oppose payment for all those with stable incomes.

“The money was meant for the neediest of the needy and not MCAs who can comfortably pay up,” he said, adding that they had hired Pamoja Trust to carry out a socioeconomic study on all the landowners to determine who deserved the county’s help.

“We expect the findings of the non-governmental organisation to give us an insight on who should benefit and how to adjust the figure that we approved,” Mr Odari added.

Shika Adabu MCA Mohamed Madundo however said there was nothing to worry about since the Bill was yet to be signed by the governor, having been passed only 12 days ago.

“Let’s wait until the Bill is signed because the Governor has been out of the county since we passed the motion almost two weeks ago,” he said.

Mtongwe MCA Hamisi Musa said they passed the motion in good faith and that he was not aware some of his colleagues would benefit from the payout.

His Kongowea counterpart Jabass Oduor asked the governor not to play politics with taxpayers’ money, saying the Sh1.25 billion could be used in more important development projects.

“The county government cannot pay its workers, and I wonder how it can approve such a huge expenditure on rich individuals who have built palatial houses on the Waitiki farm,” he said.

Likoni Sub-County Uwezo Fund chairman Salim Abdallah “Kuuza” said: “It is now beyond any reasonable doubt that our MCAs are passing Bills that will not only benefit the Executive but also themselves.”

Efforts to get a comment from the county chiefs were unsuccessful.