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Probe reveals shocking details of rogue staff in NLC corruption rot

Sunday July 21 2019

Muhammad Swazuri, NLC

Former NLC chairman Muhammad Swazuri arrives at the Milimani Law Courts with fellow co-accused on April 23, 2019 to face charges relating to corruption. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

 NYAMBEGA GISESA
By NYAMBEGA GISESA
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Corrupt officers at the National Land Commission (NLC) have created a cartel in which almost all services are obtained after payment of bribes running into millions of shillings, investigation by the Sunday Nation reveals.

Some junior officers, including those serving tea, office messengers, clerks and security officers, have grown rich overnight, benefiting from the corruption networks with a number of them owning palatial homes and driving top-of-the-range cars. The term of the previous commission ended in February this year but the secretariat continues to operate amid various cases facing current and former officials in court.

UNTOUCHABLE

The well-connected junior officers, who have been working in cahoots with a section of their seniors, are said to be untouchable within the commission.

Worryingly, former commissioners and senior officials, some of whom have already been charged in court for engaging in graft, are said to be still pulling strings within the commission where corruption goes on unabated.

“The rot is so much that only a detailed investigation, including a lifestyle audit, will help cleanse the image of the commission,” an insider who requested not to be named told Sunday Nation.

The insider, who is privy to matters concerning the commission, said that both the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) have been notified of the web of corruption at the land agency.

Already, the EACC has finalised investigations into one of the reported matters which touches on the fraudulent and exaggerated payment of hundreds of millions of shillings for the compensation of land for a road project being undertaken by the Kenya National Highways Authority.

The anti-graft body is also probing compensation for the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) Phase 2A which run into billions of shillings. Further, Dr Nicholas Muraguri, the Lands Principal Secretary, last week reportedly raised concerns after receiving complaints from individuals who said they were being asked to give bribes before they receive their compensation monies for the compulsory acquisition of their lands for the construction of the railway line.

COMPENSATION

When contacted, Mr Muraguri did not respond to our enquiries. The complainants accuse NLC officials of delaying the processing of their compensation so that they ask for bribes before fast-tracking the process of payment.

Normally, the payments process passes through three stages before reaching the CEO who authorises for payment.

“We have received the allegations and I have subsequently ordered that all requests for payments are processed in the shortest time possible and brought to my attention for payment. Anyone who feels that he has been mistreated or asked to give a bribe, should report to me so that I deal with the issue,” Ms Kabale Arero, NLC acting CEO, said. NLC is processing payments totalling to Sh4,266,921,078 to individuals who were affected in a nine-kilometre stretch of the SGR Phase 2A line. Corrupt valuers at the commission had initially over-valued the amounts of money to be paid by over a billion shillings, raising eyebrows that led to an investigation.

Other than the fraudulent compensations, the Sunday Nation encountered frequent cases of graft in the departments of land administration and management and that of legal affairs and enforcement.

According to the individuals we interviewed, most of the officers from the department of land administration and management who were seconded from the Ministry of Lands had formed a close knit cartel within the commission through which they minted millions in form of bribes from individuals whose leases had expired.

EXTENSION OF LEASES

The department of land administration and management has various duties among them the renewal and extension of leases, issuing of letters of allotment and sub-division of land.

Sources said that the officers who number about 74 rarely go to field trips, a common practice among civil servants who clamour to be sent outside their work stations to earn lucrative per diems, but instead prefer to remain in office in order to make a quick buck. The corrupt officers are said to have made a tidy sum from the renewal of the 99 years old land leases issued between 1905 and 1920.

So far, EACC has charged three officers with various charges of economic crimes. The NLC 2013–2019 First Commissioners End Term Report says that: “At inception, the Commission during the transitional period, prepared 6,738 leases which were executed by the then Commissioner of Lands and the Chairman of the Commission.” By the reporting period, the Commission had received 65,231 requests for processing land ownership documents.

Worryingly, the department of legal affairs and enforcement has never won any major land disputes in court, something that insiders attributed to collision between NLC lawyers, external lawyers and respondents.

PAY DAMAGES

“Our internal and the external lawyers conspire to ensure that the cases fail so that the commission is forced to pay damages. These proceeds are then shared among the parties,” an insider who requested not to be named said.

The rot is so deep that, according to our queries, NLC lawyers had deliberately ignored to appear in court or delayed to respond to suits so that the commission is cited for contempt.

“They then ask the court to be allowed to conduct out-of-court settlements with the aggrieved parties. The shrewd lawyers eventually receive a cut of the payments,” an insider said.

The NLC legal affairs and enforcement department is also on the spot for “selling the decisions of the commission” to individuals in determinations involving the review of grants and dispositions.

In April, the EACC charged 24 NLC staff, most of them drawn from the department of valuation and taxation, the unit which has seen a number of its officers dragged to court to face graft charges.

This is the department charged with valuing and taxing properties for compensation, one of the key mandates for the commission.