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Lands officials sent packing in shake-up

Saturday December 3 2011

Heads roll at Lands Ministry over Syokimau demolition
Lands PS Dorothy Angote. Photo/FILE
Lands PS Dorothy Angote. Photo/FILE
By DAVE OPIYO [email protected]

The government has sent packing 12 senior officials at the ministry of Lands in one of the boldest and most radical attempts to clean up corruption and impunity within its ranks.

The radical shake-up at the Lands office was touched off by the Syokimau and other land scandals in which unscrupulous officers in collusion with outside cartels have sold off government land to unsuspecting members of the public after passing it off as a clean deal.

Civil society players have complained repeatedly that the pace of reform as required by the Constitution has been slowed down by unscrupulous officers.

Lands minister James Orengo and Commissioner of Lands Zablon Mabea have differed on key issues.

In March 2009, Mr Orengo ordered several buildings, including Nakumatt Ukay and a temple said to be on riparian reserves, to be brought down.

A few days later, Mr Mabea said that the order was null and void and that the buildings were not on riparian land.

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Sources at the ministry told the Sunday Nation that permanent secretary Dorothy Angote had, by Friday evening, signed 12 letters to send home both senior and junior officials said to have been involved in the scandal.

The affected individuals are, however, yet to receive their marching orders. The letters are expected to be delivered to the affected individuals when they report to work on Monday.

And the number of those to be sacked is expected to rise considerably in the coming days, the source said.

Detectives from the Criminal Investigations Department are also expected to move in tomorrow to investigate fraudulent land transactions.

Hundreds of thousands of citizens, including a company associated with President Kibaki, have fallen prey to the cartels the government is now dismantling.

The Lands ministry is a huge revenue earner, raking in at least Sh6 billion every year.

According to a senior ministry official who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, those to be sent home include several lands officers, surveyors, physical  planners, lands registrars and others.

“This is just the beginning of a major clean-up exercise to weed out corruption cartels at the ministry,” the official said on Saturday. “We are yet to touch the big fish at the ministry as we are still awaiting conclusion of investigations. But I can assure you that they will not be spared,” he added. “This is the first time in the history of this country that we are taking such drastic action. We shall not relent until we clean this place of corrupt individuals.”

The move comes hot on the heels of recent revelations by Lands Commissioner Mabea, who termed irregular all allocations in the Syokimau area where hundreds of houses were demolished.

Mr Mabea told a joint parliamentary committee investigating the demolitions that the title deeds, letters of allotment, and even the Gazette Notice relating to the land were all fake as they had no corresponding records in the master registry at the Lands ministry.

The commissioner told the MPs that he would not take the blame for the approvals granted from Machakos Lands office, saying that individual officers had to “carry their own cross”.

“What we’ve seen are attempts by the group to legitimise fake documents. The titles and the letters of allotment are not in our records," said Mr Mabea in reference to the Uungani and Mlolongo Brothers group who, together with the Kenya Airports Authority, are claiming ownership of the disputed land sold to unsuspecting home owners.

Last month, homes worth millions of shillings built on the disputed land were demolished.

Mr Mabea, while appearing before the House committee for the second time, also revealed that some Lands ministry officials received cash from a company to register land in Syokimau.

“The payments were received in my ministry, but they were received to hasten fraud. It is evident that someone fiddled with the cards (of payment),” he said.

On Saturday, the senior ministry official insisted that the land legitimately belonged to KAA but blamed some of his colleagues, whom he revealed, made a copy of the original title deed of the land, which they then sub-divided and sold to unsuspecting Kenyans.

“The fake copy had almost a similar title deed number with the original number. It was difficult to suspect that it was fake. It was here that the fraud started,” he said.

“Those who came to the ministry for the search, it appears, got results for the fake title. This is how they were duped into these purchases.”

The ministry has many a time been described as a den of corruption with poor land transaction services.

Earlier this year, members of the Law Society of Kenya organised a protest march to the ministry to push Mr Orengo and his officials to address their complaints.

In March last year, PS Angote conducted an impromptu raid on some offices in her ministry and exposed a cartel of rogue officers who had thousands of land files that they had no reason to be holding.

In the swoop, some 13,000 files, including title deeds that had been declared missing, were found hidden in various parts of the registry, including under cabinets. Others were carelessly placed in boxes that were then dumped in lonely and dingy corners.

The registry was at the time poorly organised and congested with files strewn everywhere. This perhaps explains why many were unable to trace their files at the Lands office.

Many were, therefore, forced to give bribes for the files to be traced by “wheeler-dealers” who ruled the corridors at the ministry.