Kenya: Pain of Families Awaiting Pay for Land Seized for Kenyan SGR Project

A one-bedroom house made from recycled oil drums that still bear the logo of China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) is all that Ms Kerandi Kusero got as compensation for letting the standard gauge railway snake through her family's land.

COMPENSATION

The mother of three was also promised Sh2 million for surrendering her quarter-acre property. She was somewhat lucky, as most of her neighbours were only promised Sh2,000 for similar parcels of land.

But in reality, Ms Kusero and most of her neighbours are all on even ground. They have never been paid for their land, though Kenya's laws provide for payment of people affected by projects before they leave their property.

Ms Kusero's grievances mirror the misery of hundreds of other families along Phase 2A of the SGR whose land was taken for the grand project. From poor compensation terms, delayed pay-outs and unreliable information from the government, the landowners now believe Kenya Railways is deliberately short-changing them.

On paper, several land owners were paid billions, but in reality, only a handful of public officials and brokers got onto the SGR land compensation gravy train.

Residents in the area were promised that schools would be built as part of the compensation package.

But only a tin structure less than 20 square metres stands on a small piece of land in Kitet, Suswa, in Narok. The school, also named Kitet, has just four rickety benches able to seat at most 12 pupils at once.

"No school has been built along the railway line. The only school they claim to have built (Kitet Primary School) is a bit farther down the road. When you step in, you only see dust," Ms Kusero and her neighbour, who requested anonymity, tell the Saturday Nation.

Residents on the ground heap blame on their local leaders, especially officials of Kedong Ranch Ltd, which held land on behalf of the community.

NO NEGOTIATION

Ms Kusero directs us to the home of a local leader she identifies only as Sarite, who received Sh2 million in compensation. But Mr Sarite is away. So are most residents.

Wednesday is market day, and most adults have made their way to Suswa. The market brings together buyers and sellers of animals. Nothing else is traded at the market on that day.

Ms Kusero says that National Land Commission officials and local leaders got educated people in the area to furnish affected land owners with forms for compensation, and tricked them into accepting new houses and money.

Even then, the little money promised has never been delivered for many.

For some like Ms Kusero, there was no negotiation. CRBC got to their land and started construction.

"A few people who were stubborn and stood their ground were paid Sh2 million. But most people here have not been paid. The few that were paid started receiving payments last year," she said.

The 75,000-acre Kedong Ranch has been subdivided and sold to private developers since 2010, when word got out that several government projects, including geothermal power stations and the standard gauge railway, would see billions paid out to property owners affected.

Mostly unaware of the politics surrounding Kedong Ranch, which has been in and out of court over land battles, the affected locals in Kitet appear to have accepted their fate and moved into the houses built for them by CRBC.

Their only hope for protection faded away in October last year when the High Court dismissed a petition seeking to recognise Kedong Ranch as community land.

But even with their limited knowledge, the residents still know that they got the short end of the stick.

BROKERS

The manyattas they inhabited earlier were more comfortable than the tin houses.

"It takes six months to build a manyatta," Ms Kusero says. "Each stick and each chunk of mud is carefully brought into the mix to ensure that you have a warm and comfortable dwelling. The houses we have been given have really rough concrete floors. There is no ceiling. It gets very cold especially at night. Most of the people here have never been paid for the land they owned."

On the ground, the disparity in compensation is easily visible. Some residents got as much as Sh2 million for their property, while others are yet to get the Sh2,000 they were promised.

A few houses are built quite well, and even painted. It's visible that the tin used was not from recycled oil drums, unlike most of the others in the area. In the neatly constructed homes, small sheds have been put up for the owners' livestock.

Unlike the first phase of the SGR where land owners made a windfall from the hefty pay-outs they got, the second phase has become a pain to those whose property was taken away. Many of them are just millionaires on paper as brokers and government officials involved in the pay outs live large.

In Suswa, a second street is already coming up and new multistorey buildings are rising quickly.

Murmurs in the town are that leaders who were in charge of the compensation received their payments first and then forgot about the rest. They are the ones who are behind the real estate projects.

By law, the government must compensate, in full, those who own land it intends to acquire for a certain project.

The compensation is supposed to be given before the land is acquired so that affected people can move to new locations.

VERIFICATION

For Phase 2A of the SGR however, the rush to finish the project in record time made all the government agencies involved break all the laid-down rules about compulsory land acquisition.

Brokers who had seen how those who were living in the corridor that the Mombasa-Nairobi leg of the SGR became overnight millionaires jumped into the melee and turned it into a free-for-all.

Those who had the money bought parcels of land along the corridor where the railway would pass in anticipation of getting the windfall once NLC came knocking. Those who could not turned themselves into brokers between land owners and NLC by negotiating on their behalf and then get paid "professional fees".

Last week, the High Court in Kajiado froze a Sh927 million payment by NLC to Clarence Matheny Leadership Training Institute (CMLTI). Altana Corporation, a company owned by suspected fake-gold peddler Zaheer Jhanda, was supposed to be paid part of this Sh927 as a consultant for CMLTI.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) last month raised a red flag on the amount of compensation that has been awarded for the project.

"Preliminary verification of fair values of sampled properties affected by the project and comparing it against the compensation initially awarded reveal that the awards are far in excess of their fair value of the subject parcels," wrote EACC chief executive Twalib Mbarak to NLC on May 19 after scrutinising just a sample of compensations.

In one of the cases of inflation, NLC hiked the price of a parcel of land from Sh18 million to Sh255 million, a staggering variation of 1,231 per cent.

In another case, NLC inflated a property from Sh6 million to Sh19 million, a variation of 204 per cent. In yet another, NLC inflated a piece of land from Sh9 million to Sh30 million, a variation of 310 per cent.

KICKBACKS

Those in the know say this rot goes all the way up to political circles where senior politicians received part of the kickbacks in the well-choreographed scheme to steal from taxpayers. This is why a computer with crucial compensation data disappeared mysteriously on December 17 last year just a day before a tranche of Sh7.2 billion was supposed to be paid out to some land owners.

The computer has not been found and the people who stole it from the second floor of the well-guarded Ardhi House are not known. In this confusion, it is those who were genuinely supposed to be paid who have received the short end of the stick. Some were underpaid and others are still waiting to receive their money.

Then the railway itself is being built in bits, unlike the Mombasa-Nairobi line, which was done as one continuous piece of infrastructure. This has led to unnecessary delays, with the project having passed its June 1 deadline. There is still no sign that it will be completed soon, as the Saturday Nation found out by driving along the line from Ngong to Suswa.

The government had planned to spend Sh15 billion on compensating land owners affected by the 120km project. This is half the Sh30 billion that was spent paying Project Affected Persons (PAPS) on the 485km Mombasa-Nairobi leg, which is almost four times the length from Nairobi to Naivasha.

By May, NLC had paid out Sh12 billion to 1,024 PAPs and is supposed to conclude the exercise at the end of the month. With eight days to go till the end of June, it is unlikely that NLC will have completed compensating those whose properties lie in the corridor.

TEARS

On Thursday, the Senate Transport Committee gave NLC a week to complete issuing the payments or it will order the project stopped. A visit by the committee to Nkoroi in Ongata Rongai almost turned chaotic as the community demanded the project stopped on the spot until they are paid.

"The law says compensation should be paid promptly and in full. There is no law that allows the government to take someone's property by force," the committee's chair Kimani Wamatangi told the community.

"Kenya is not a jungle, it is ruled by the law. We have given NLC, the contractor and Kenya Railways six days to come before us and explain why everyone has not been paid," said Mr Wamatangi.

But in the midst of the crowd stood Mrs Anne Korir, hands on her face and tears rolling down. Just a week before, her five-bedroom house stood at this very spot where politicians were holding a baraza with residents of Nkoroi.

Now the only memory she has of her home is a video on her phone. And barely a week after her house was brought down, two huge pillars stand at the same spot.

One pillar occupies what used to be her sitting room while the other is on what was the family's farm.

The people whose property was taken away are moving from office to office hoping that they will be paid one day.

COMPULSORY

"You go to the National Land Commission's offices and you're asked to go to the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission. Then you're told to go to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and Director of Public Prosecutions offices before being bounced back to the National Land Comission offices," Mrs Korir, a land owner in Nkoroi, Ngong told the Saturday Nation.

Mrs Korir had lived in her house for 17 years before an earthmover flattened it in a matter of minutes last Sunday.

The property also had two greenhouses and a shed for her livestock. All that is history now, and Mrs Korir is yet to get a cent in compensation.

She was still in negotiations with the government over how much she should get for her land, and at one point even turned down advances from a Chinese contractor for Sh2 million.

The contractor offered her one million for each pillar that will touch her land, which would have accompanied the money she would have got for the land itself.

By the time of going to press, National Land Commission CEO Francis Bor was yet to respond to our queries on how a contractor was allowed to negotiate compulsory land acquisition for the government, a mandate exclusive to the NLC.

Investigations by the Saturday Nation have revealed that professional fees, alternative accommodation packages and other levies not provided for by law were used to inflate the value of several land parcels.

The Senate Transport Committee has summoned NLC, Kenya Railways and the Chinese contractor to explain the confusion surrounding land compensation on Phase 2A of the project.

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