The ongoing motions to set up the second National Land Commission (NLC) have been overshadowed by a crisis facing the policy leadership arm of the land sector, Ardhi House, that had brought service delivery to a halt.
Old ‘cartel capture’ was back at Ardhi House with a vengeance, doing business with renewed confidence as evident from reports that property files and ownership documents were being made to disappear with impunity.
A roll back of digitisation of systems to keep processes as old school manual as possible was in top gear, with all newly-installed online platforms constantly “breaking” down, while official manning critical action stations still insisted on physical documents, even when they had been captured in online portals.
Worse, according to the Law Society of Kenya (LSK), outright fraud through “missing files”, arbitrary registration and removal of cautions and caveats was common.
“Registration of cautions was taking several weeks, exposing the general pubic to risks, including loss of property and fraud... arbitrary registration and removal of cautions and caveats was common place”, a protest complaint lodged to Land Secretary Faridah Karoney by LSK President Allen Gichuhi reads in part.
The no-holds-barred stinging complaint dated June 26 to the minister says the LSK is perturbed by rampant corruption, ineptitude and outright fraudulent forces that seemed to operate with audacious impunity.
“The LSK is surprised that title deeds under the new Registered Titles Act were being converted under Registered Land Act and records sent to District Registrars without proper notification of the stakeholders and registered owners, leading to confusion and anxiety over the legal status of properties” says the protest memo.
The LSK does not quantify the volume of the chaos and officially-driven fraud opportunities posed by this practice.
However, landowners, financial institutions and stakeholders should be alarmed by the prospect of having one’s lease records, normally under the custody of the Chief Land Registrar, physically transmitted to the County Land Registrar, who administers the Land Registration Act, without notifying the owners or their agents.
“There is a need for regulations and stakeholders engagement. The LSK proposes setting up of a stakeholders committee with LSK representation to set guidelines,” reads part of the complaint LSK chairman Gichuhi signed.
The LSK also cautions the Cabinet Secretary that illegalities were being committed in the ongoing irregular renewal of leases and extensions of expiring ones by ungazetted officers.
“The change of law in February (2019), pursuant to which the Cabinet Secretary became the authorised person to issue leases, the LSK wrote to the CS to seek delegation of powers to land registrars, and raising the need for a gazette notice to identify the persons authorised to handle such matters.
"The gazette notice has not been forthcoming yet... this raises the veneer of illegalities in the present practice,” LSK warns.
The LSK paints a chaotic picture of impunity running amock in the land offices. “Loss and misplacement of records, correspondences during and after scanning in the registry are on the rise. Cases of missing green cards in district registry rampant. It takes months to reconstruct and trace, and there are no designated offices to deal with missing green cards,” LSK says.
Impromptu mass transfers of staff at various stations and replacement with untrained National Youth Service personnel at Nairobi and Central registries was part of the chaos afflicting service delivery in the land sector, where operations at some stations had ground to a complete halt, according to LSK.
“For instance, there are no cashiers in Kiambu district registry, compelling the public to travel to Thika and Nairobi for assessment payments of stamp duty.
“Transfer of entire registry staff without replacement has crippled the Machakos registry since February,” the complaint says.