No payment for squatters leaving Mau - Daily Nation

No payment for squatters leaving Mau

Wednesday November 18 2009

A settler displaced from South Western Mau prepares food at Kapkembu camp in Kuresoi district where hundreds of displaced families are camping. Prime Minister Odinga has said the settlers will begin receiving assistance. PHOTO/ CORRESPONDENT

A settler displaced from South Western Mau prepares food at Kapkembu camp in Kuresoi district where hundreds of displaced families are camping. Prime Minister Odinga has said the settlers will begin receiving assistance. PHOTO/ CORRESPONDENT 

By BERNARD NAMUNANE and JOHN NGIRACHU

The squatters who have left South Western Mau Forest will not be paid any compensation by the government.

And the evictions will proceed as planned, Prime Minister Raila confirmed on Wednesday.

Rift Valley MPs have been calling on the squatters not to leave temporary camps until alternative settlement was found for them.

Mr Odinga accused politicians of seeking to block the conservation of the Mau Forest, the country’s main source of water.

Speaking at his Treasury office, the PM said it was tantamount to a crime for people to encroach on a forest that had not been excised for settlement and stated that the squatters would not be paid.

“Are these people criminals or innocent Kenyans? Should they be prosecuted? Do they deserve any compensation?” he asked.

“The government is saying: ‘Get out and go back where you came from’. But they have refused to go home and they are blackmailing the government to give them free land.”

Forestry and Wildlife minister Noah Wekesa and the chairman of the Interim Coordinating Secretariat, Mr Hassan Noor Hassan, supported the PM and said the settlers in the South Western Mau had no documents to support their stay in the 400,000-hectare forest.

Dr Wekesa warned that should the government pay the 1,690 families that had encroached on the 19,000 hectares of the forest, it would trigger similar demands.

“If you talk about compensation, you will be opening a pandora’s box. People who were evicted from Embobut, Mt Kenya, Arberdares and Mt Elgon will come out and demand to be paid,” he said.

The media briefing was also attended by Cabinet ministers Naomi Shaban, James Orengo and permanent secretaries from their ministries.

“Encroachers on this part of the forest had no documents; they were trying their luck,” Mr Noor said, adding that his team had divided the eviction of 34,000 families in the forest into five phases, beginning with the ones who did not have title deeds.

The evictions should be over by the end of the week.

The restoration of the Mau will take two years and cost of Sh38 billion.

Mr Odinga accused some Rift Valley MPs of inciting the farmers to resist the evictions and claimed the politicians were behind the mushrooming of roadside camps.

“One of the MPs is responsible for the camps. They have raised funds to feed people yet they are the very people who settled them in the forest.”

Dr Wekesa said during a recent tour, a Cabinet colleague told squatters not to move out of the forest.

The PM said the government had drawn up an elaborate plan for the evictions, including provision of one-month humanitarian aid. He assured the public that all settlers, including “prominent ones”, would be evicted.

“This government is capable of dealing with the big fish and they are in the next phase. Where we have reached, we cannot go back.”

At Parliament Buildings in Nairobi, some MPs threatened to rally squatters to return to the forest in the next 12 days unless the government identified land on which they would be resettled.

They also said officers deployed to enforce a government eviction order had started demolishing the huts of those who had left.

Kuresoi MP Zakayo Cheruiyot, in whose constituency most of the forest dwellers have set up camp, said about 8,000 children had been affected in the eviction and claimed that their lives were at risk.

“We note with concern that most of the relief food was deliberately misdirected to Bomet, Bureti and Konoin, which are over 120 kilometres away,” said the statement read by Chepalungu MP Isaac Ruto.

They said relief food delivered to the squatters at their camps was inadequate and cited a case where 17 bags of maize, 12 of beans and 11 cartons of cooking fat were taken to 2,500 people camped at Terta.

The other camps are at Kipkongor, Kurbanyat, Tiriita and Kapkigaron.

Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny threatened to hold demonstrations and rally the squatters back to the forest, saying two days had elapsed since he issued a 14-day ultimatum for the government to act.

Eldoret East MP Margaret Kamar asked the Kenya Forestry Service to consider using the “shamba system” to reafforest the Mau. Under the system, farmers cultivate the land and plant trees and only move out when the trees are tall and farming unproductive.