The government has said it will not relent in its quest to reclaim illegally acquired land inside Ngong Forest.
Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko said this on Monday as it emerged that the 132 acres that several estates sit on were earmarked for a school but were grabbed.
CS Tobiko told the National Assembly Committee on Environment, chaired by Kareke Mbiuki, that the government will not negotiate with anyone who illegally acquired land in the forest.
Mr Tobiko said the gazette notice issued by Environment minister Francis Lotodo in 1998, though illegal, clearly indicated that the 132-acre section of the forest ended up in the hands of powerful individuals.
“You cannot excise forest land which is public property and give it to private individuals. The law states that any part of de-gazetted forest land must be used for public activity or amenity,” Mr Tobiko said.
“The government will repossess all forest land grabbed by powerful people in this country. We will not look at the tribe, political party affiliation or social status. We must protect our forests from illegal encroachment,” Mr Tobiko added.
It also emerged that 95 companies that were illegally allocated land in the forest cannot be traced and that their records are not at the Registrar of Companies.
Mr Tobiko said previous office holders used the companies as a conduit to excise forest land then fraudulently handed pieces to powerful individuals.
“The beneficiaries of Ngong Forest land are not poor, they are mighty and powerful individuals who own properties both in the country and abroad. It is time we expose them. This war should not be politicised,” Mr Tobiko said.
Mr Tobiko was invited after residents of Royal Park, Sun Valley I and II, Lang’ata Gardens, Langa’ta View Gardens and Forest Edge estates petitioned Parliament, urging it to instruct the CS to follow the law and get proper information from the Ministry of Lands regarding Ngong Forest.
Although the CS maintained that the estates were built on illegally acquired land, he said he is ready to negotiate with owners for a solution.
“Let’s agree on the facts first — that the titles are invalid — then negotiate on terms and conditions on the way out. At no time did we say that we are going to demolish the houses. We have no intention to do that,” Mr Tobiko said.
Kipkellion West MP Hillary Koskei, however, told off the CS saying most evictions in the country have targeted the poor while the rich have always been protected.
He cited the evictions in Kariobangi, Molo, Lang’ata and Mau Forest.
“It has been 22 years since these people settled on the land. Where have you been all this time? Is it only now that you are waking up to implement the Ndung’u report? If that is the case, it should be implemented in full,” Mr Koskei said.
Mr Mbiuki said that while writing its report, the committee will recommend that government officers who allocated forest land to third parties be held accountable for their actions.
“We have a responsibility as a committee to protect innocent Kenyans who bought land from third parties,” he said.
Kasipul MP Ong'ondo Were told the CS to also reclaim land occupied by Kiptagich Tea Estate, which is deep in Mau forest.
Mr Tobiko told the committee that at gazettement in 1932, Mau Forest measured 7,239 acres and that just after independence in 1963, when the forest was declared a central forest, it had shrunk by nearly half to 3,722.5 acres due to further excisions.
By 1978, it had contracted even more to 3,274.57 acres.
Decades later, the forest was hived off again by unscrupulous people in collusion with Ardhi House operatives, leaving only 2,443.37 acres in 1996
The CS maintained that the government will disregard fraudulently-issued titles to protect the correct area under forest cover - 330.39 acres as of 1999.