23 November 2011

Kenya: Sanctity of Title Deed Must Be Respected, Protected

As tears flowed freely and the wailing cries of land owners in Syokimau choked under the roaring sounds of monster bulldozers, questions lingered my mind as an expert in real estate matters. What could have gone wrong? Could the title deeds on display be fake? Has the government replaced its human heart with an ice-cube?

Having been an active player in the real estate sector for the last 10 years, what I saw was shocking. I know very well how difficult it is to put up a house: the costly procedures of obtaining the land, the necessary approvals for construction, getting started, coping with the fluctuating costs of building materials or interest rates and so on. How foolish would one be to go through all that if they had an iota of doubt on the ingenuity of the title deed? Who is the ultimate authority on land transactions?

To me, a title deed is no different from legal tender (money). We all trust notes and coins without question because they are guaranteed by the government. It has a monopoly to produce money just like it has the monopoly to issue title to land ownership. How then can one claim otherwise.

Title deeds are issued subject to strict, stringent and painstakingly slow procedure with vetting nodes at close intervals. If you are not sure if the title deed for the land you want to purchase is genuine, you go to the relevant government registry and run a search on it. The verdict given is unquestionable. Therefore, for someone to say that the title deeds in Syokimau are forgeries, then they need to take full responsibility for allowing forgeries to happen in such a process.

If the land actually belongs to Kenya Airports Authority (KAA), the big question is, who hived it off? Who gave the land buying companies the title deed? Who altered the boundaries? It's certainly not those whose livelihoods are being shuttered! Just like the government is using our tax as collateral for corruption (remember the ministry of education saga where after they could not account for funds, they used our money to refund donors), they are using bulldozers to silence the "voices from the grassroots", as they protect the real grabbers of public lands.

The names of individuals and companies mentioned in the Ndung'u and Njonjo reports are those of people who're in the current or have been in the previous governments. Is there any action plan? I doubt.

Good governance is about expanding democracy and improving the economic opportunities for citizens, hence uplifting their living standards. Anything else is plunder and should be condemned. If the government intends to slay the dragon of corruption and promote integrity, then it has no option but to swallow a pill called zero-tolerance to corruption and apply a lotion called integrity; government regimes change, but contractual obligations such as issuance of title deeds must be respected across the regime changes. Land is a very emotive issue and if the government and it's agencies continue to play around with it as they are doing now, the mustard seed of discontentment by masses will germinate into a huge thorny tree of rebellion.

Through the ministry of lands, the government should apologise to the nation: first, for allowing its own land to be "grabbed" by high ranking officials, second, it must own up to being part of the cartel issuing fake titles, third, it must protect and respect the sanctity of the title deed as enshrined in the constitution and offer compensation those it has wrongly victimised, destroyed their properties and evicted. After all, under our current laws only the court of law has power to cancel the title.

Mr Munene is managing director at Daytons Valuers Ltd.

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