Far too many times, I have had to privately advise on who should undertake title surveys in Kenya. It’s therefore perhaps time I did so to a wider audience. Title surveys, commonly referred to as cadastral surveys by the surveying fraternity, are regulated under the Survey Act. All surveys undertaken for the preparation of any plan for registration of title to land in Kenya are governed by this law. It specifies who should do survey and to what standards, and further provides details of examinations and procedures for admitting surveyors to undertake such surveys. Title surveys are tightly controlled by statute since title deeds and leases enjoy state guarantee. Land owners are indemnified against any errors or incorrect description of their land, and can therefore sue the state for correction or compensation. The Survey Act dates back to 1923 but has since been severally revised. It’s however yet to be aligned with the 2010 Constitution and today’s realities, technology and laws.
So who is a surveyor under the Survey Act? Title survey can only be done by a licensed surveyor or a government surveyor who is an officer of the Survey Department of the government, in our case, Survey of Kenya. A licensed surveyor is a surveyor duly licensed under the Survey Act. A land surveyors’ board, which is chaired by the Director of Surveys, is responsible for examining candidates for licensing, issuing licences and for regulating the conduct of Licensed surveyors. The board however allows each Licensed surveyor to register survey assistants to help in the execution of their routine workload. The board maintains a register of licensed surveyors and their assistants and is responsible for disciplining surveyors, and even revoking licenses, where there’s misconduct.
Therefore, anyone undertaking title survey in Kenya can only do so when under the direction and supervision of the Director of Surveys, is a licensed surveyor or is a survey assistant registered under a Licensed surveyor to whom he routinely reports. Anyone doing title surveys outside this contravenes the law and is punishable if reported and found guilty. If the land surveyors’ board were to be proactive and thorough, many who masquerade as surveyors for title survey in our towns and rural areas would have been long charged and jailed. Anyone keen on checking out the bona fide licensed surveyors in Kenya can got to www.lsb.or.ke or give a call to the Director of Surveys’ office and ask to speak to the secretary of the land surveyors’ board.
Due to capacity issues and in order to grow the industry, as a matter of policy, the government privatised title surveys quite a long while back. This is the reason why Odhiambo in Bondo or Kamene in Makueni cannot go to the government county survey office to have the county surveyor undertake their subdivision survey. This is why Patel in Nairobi cannot similarly ask the Director of Survey to undertake his subdivision or lease extension survey within the city. All this was left to licensed surveyors in the private sector and the situation has been so for long.
But how are things playing out in practical terms? The situation is not rosy at all. The country boosts just over two hundred Licensed surveyors so far. But over ninety per cent of these are based in Nairobi. Kisumu, Kakamega, Mombasa, Nakuru, Nyeri, Embu and Meru have most of the others. The rest of the country has to do with big capacity gaps. This vacuum has been abused by all manner of persons who present themselves as surveyors.
The problem is that these imposters neither understand the inherent legal consequences nor do they have the technical knowhow, ethical standing or motivation to ensure quality surveys. Most of them have created serious ground problems and disputes that we shall have to live with for long. In most cases, the land surveyors’ board is largely to blame for a lax disciplinary system, and a licensing process that’s not up-to-date with current realities.
The board must therefore move out of its comfort zone and regulate practice more effectively within and beyond Nairobi. It should also revisit the licensing process to make the law and practical examinations more structured and predicable. This should have the effect of mentoring and examining more candidates from the public and private sectors faster.
Currently we’ve many examinable candidates who feel excluded or frustrated by the current system. Yet we certainly need more licensed surveyors to handle the country’s huge load of registered parcels, which is quickly moving towards 10 million.
The Cabinet Secretary can also help to expedite the review the Survey Act to take into account today’s technology and realities, and also open it up to regulate other sub-disciplines of survey, such as engineering and GIS. This would make the profession more inclusive as in medicine and law where practitioners proceed to pursue their respective areas of interest after licensing.
Mr Mwathane is a surveyor; [email protected]