alexa Lawyer’s task as NLC new boss no walk in the park  - Daily Nation

Lawyer’s task as NLC new boss no walk in the park 

Wednesday August 21 2019

Lawyer Gershom Otachi.

Lawyer Gershom Otachi. He has been nominated as National Land Commission chairman. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

IBRAHIM ORUKO
By IBRAHIM ORUKO
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Vetting by MPs is what stands between Mr Gershom Otachi and his confirmation as National Land Commission's second chairman.

President Uhuru Kenyatta picked Mr Otachi to lead the commission and his name and others have already been forwarded to the National Assembly for vetting.

In line with the law, Mr Otachi and eight members picked to serve in the commission, will be subjected to approval hearings by the National Assembly Committee on Lands when the House ends the recess mid next month.

DIRTY SCHEMES

Parliament rarely rejects any individual appointed by President Kenyatta to a public office.

What awaits the team, should the nominations be confirmed, is no mean task, especially because of the manner in which the commission has been managed since its inauguration in 2012.

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While it took nearly six months for President Mwai Kibaki to gazette the first commissioners, NLC soon fell to nefarious power plays that would allow it to execute its mandate effectively.

Two interests have defined the commission since it was formed. The first is the group that owns huge tracts of land, most of it idle. These oligarchs view the commission as a threat to their privileged status.

The second class of interest is defined by the hustler-type; the fraudsters and wheeler dealers who earn a living through dirty schemes that have made the commission a cash cow.

While the oligarchs scuttle any attempts at land reforms, the wheeler dealers have taken advantage of weaknesses in the NLC to make money through a skewed compensation scheme that has placed the cost of land way above the reach of even the middle class.

The government’s appetite for huge infrastructural projects has exposed NLC’s soft underbelly.

Compensation for compulsory acquisition for land is the commission’s Achilles heel and is one of the reasons Dr Muhammad Swazuri and some of his team members are facing charges related to fraud, money laundering and corruption.

HISTORICAL INJUSTICES

The huge cost incurred by the government for the construction of the standard gauge railway is because of this compensation regime operated by the NLC.

Some landowners colluded with NLC officials to exaggerate the cost of plots,  which in turn has escalated the cost of the project, resulting in taxpayers losing tens of billions of shillings.

Recently, the Senate Roads Committee was told of how the delay in compensation for the land taken for the expansion of the 53-kilometre Jomo Kenyatta International Airport-Rironi road project had been caused by what Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) considers as outrageous valuation by NLC.

A consultant recruited by KeNHA valued most of the land on the corridor at Sh900,000 per acre, while NLC returned a verdict of Sh30 million.

Added to this is the failure by the commission to live up to its constitutional mandate of addressing historical injustices.

The corruption around the compensation and putting the country back to the land reform path is what awaits Mr Otachi and his team.

Whether the panel has the capacity or the will to deliver remains to be seen.

REFORM PATH

While it is expected that the proposed chairman could clean the murk from NLC, it is however doubtful if he can steer the country to a clear reform path as his nominations appears to be a reward for being the President’s man.

Currently the chairman of Geothermal Development Corporation, Mr Otachi co-owns a law firm with Solicitor-General Kennedy Ogeto who was part of Mr Kenyatta’s legal team during the 2017 presidential poll petition  filed by ODM Raila Odinga.

Mr Otachi also served in President Kenyatta defence team during the trials at the ICC for crimes against humanity arising from the 2007/08 post-election violence.

He also has also Served as the Chairman of the Policy Holders’ Compensation Fund (PHCF) (State Corporation) from January 2014 and to April 2015 having been appointed by the President in 2014.

Those will serve in the commission include former Labour CS Kazungu Kambi, former Nyeri Town MP Esther Murugi, former Egerton University Vice- Chancellor James Tuitoek and Ms Getrude Nduku Nguku.

Others are property valuer Reginald Okumu, Hubbie Hussein Al-Haji, Alister Murimi Mutugi and former Isiolo woman Representative Tiya Galgalo.