Capital FM (Nairobi)

22 August 2014

Kenya: Inconsistencies As Lamu Land Firms Give Defence

Nairobi — He began by laying a copy of the National Land Commission (NLC) Act open on the table.

He then proceeded to explain to the commission why he was glad NLC legal consultant, Paul Nyamodi, had commenced the proceedings by clarifying that the public hearing was convened under the powers outlined in Section six.

He was relieved, he explained, because he did not have a number of documents - that pertained to his clients Shanghai Investment Ltd, Fincorp Investment Ltd and Cyberdom Investments - in hand; documents that would reveal who the directors of those companies were and would prove they actually paid the government for the tens of thousands of acres of land in Lamu that they held in lease.

But Section 6(2)(a) allowed the Commission to, "compel the production of such information where it considers necessary," and therefore, he argued, it stood to reason that the commission would compel the relevant government authorities to produce copies of the documents his clients had lost.

The only problem of course being that his clients are among those reported to be absent from the database of registered companies.

But Paul Buti was adamant that, "there is nothing we are trying to hide," and besides, he further defended, the commission only had itself to blame for the absence of some of those documents.

"I was following the advertisement of August 4, 2014, and it did not behove upon me a requirement to produce those directors. But if you want those directors, say, by next week, I have your address, I can write to you and tell you who the directors are. They are not non-existent, they are existing and in fact I propose to send even their photographs," he said.

But even if he didn't, as he'd began by saying, "if you exercise your mandate and powers under Section 6(2)(a) you will find these documents in the lands office and I'm proceeding on the presumption that it's going to be supplied and because even if I don't supply it, you will get it."

And as generous as Buti's offer to supply even the photographs of the companies' directors appeared, he was not so keen to supply the "salivating journalists" with information on the acres of land his clients held.

Which was not surprising given the discrepancies therein; the letter of allotment to Fincorp showed that they held 18,000 hectares of land in Lamu but the title read 17,000. The same with Cyberdom only in their case the discrepancy, NLC Chairman Muhammad Swazuri said, "was more glaring," with the letter of allotment reading 9,650 ha yet the title read 4,450 ha.

And the discrepancies weren't limited to the numbers either, 8,000 ha was allotted to Shanghai yet the title holders were identified to, 'Shangha.'

And despite earlier protests, Buti was forced to admit that Shanghai and Fincorp could have, "common directorship," after it emerged that both companies and their lease holdings were entered into the Mombasa land registry on the same day, July 27 2012, and at the same time at 11am.

Earlier he had stated that he was, "sure these were not the only documents that were registered on those days. If it's a coincidence, it is not in rareness that there are coincidences."

Issa Mansur, for Mat International Ltd, was the next to appear before the NLC and he informed them that his clients did not hold the title to any land in Lamu despite having applied for 57,000 acres.

"What we are trying to say is that we had applied for the land back in 2006 but we were never issued with any title although we were given a letter of allotment," he explained.

One of the problems being the steepness, in their opinion, of the stand premium set for them by the Ministry of Lands at Sh25 million for 57,000 hectares. They wrote to the then Minister of Lands, James Orengo, asking that it be brought down to Sh11 million given they paid Sh9 million for 37,973 hectares across the border in Tana River.

They however paid Sh2.5 million of the Sh25 million asked of them, "in good faith," Mansur said.

An amount they were not refunded and their letter of allotment not revoked despite land records that show the land is now in the possession of Lamu and Tana Sugar Company Limited.

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