Property owners around Kisumu port have been thrown into a panic after a multi-agency government team out to recover Kenya Railways land descended on the Swan Centre mall associated with a South Nyanza politician on Wednesday and started fencing it off.
Thirty three other properties are on the line.
Tenants at the multimillion property were caught unawares as National Youth Service officers started fencing off the premises in the ongoing effort to reclaim Kenya Railways land and other property as the government prepares for the launch of the of Kisumu port.
Kenya Railways claims Swan Centre was built on its land. The move came just days after the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) initiated efforts to recover parcels of Kenya Railways land grabbed by individuals over the years.
The EACC is targeting 33 plots within Kisumu municipality and subsequent divisions.
The titles in question include 7/4, 5, 207, 373, 384, 422, 424, 425, 426, 427, 429, 430, 433, 435, 438, 439, 440, 446, 468, 470, 477, 479, 484, 494, 495, 499, 500, 501, 502, 505, 510, 530 and 559.
The graft watchdog gave land owners a week to present original documents to its headquarters. Those failing to do so should brace themselves for a face-off with the EACC, which says that most of the culprits are high profile politicians and businessmen from the lake region.
EACC claims that most of the land and other property being pursued for recovery was illegally acquired. In some cases, ownership has changed hands over the years.
The fencing off of Swan Centre started at 10am and continued for more than four hours as the NYS team sank holes and poles to seal off the building.
Among the affected tenants are the Kenya Revenue Authority, Choppies Supermarket, Kenya Maritime Authority, Metropolitan National Sacco and Standard Media Group.
"The move has caught us by surprise as we did not anticipate this," said a tenant who requested not to be identified. A number of customers who sought services from different organisations were surprised by the move.
"While we support the demolition of structures which encroach on public land, the government should ensure that service provision is not interrupted," Lillian Wavinya who was visiting KRA offices, said.
The move comes amid ongoing investigations into the ownership of the land that lies next to the collapsed Nakuru-Kisumu old railway line.
The demolition could also affect Ashok Leyland building. The ongoing operation to rehabilitate Kisumu port has also seen closure of a one-way slip road behind Mega Plaza that lies next to Varsity Plaza.
The road will now only serve motorists who want to access Mega Plaza and Alpha House.
Revival of the lake port has seen demolition of a number of structures including the popular Lwang'ni beach eateries and food kiosks that lay along Akamba Bus Service and Winmart area, among others.
Fear has also spread to nearby tenants of Tayiba Medical Centre and a mosque which are the only buildings remaining opposite Swan Centre. Due to the sensitivity of the port, the area surrounding the facility including offices and residential houses will be fenced off.
Kenya Railways Managing Director Philip Mainga attributed the illegal encroachment to inactivity at the Kisumu port for over a decade. He, however, cautioned that individuals who have built structures within 30 metres on both sides of the railway line as those within 150 metres from the railway station will be affected.
Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) Kisumu County branch chairman Israel Agina while noting that the relocation is a big blow to entrepreneurs who had established at mall, urged other proprietors to take advantage of the anticipated demand.
He pointed out that the availability of space at the Lake Basin Mall, Tuff Foam Mall and Mega Plaza could come as a relief to the people affected.
"I know moving out of a place after over a decade of operation can be challenging but we are hoping that the revitalised port will start yielding fruits at the end of the process," he said.
In an August 29 public notice, the affected owners have until tomorrow to submit documents original ownership documents, transfer documents and consents from the Lands Control Board to the EACC.
EACC communications officer Yassin Amaru told the Nation that the commission will verify the documents upon the expiry of the deadline before taking action.
"We will go through the documents one by one and those with illegal documents will go through the court process as we look to recover the land," he said.
The move comes a month after the commission recovered 0.14 hectares of Kenya Railways land within Kisumu municipality from East African Legislative Assembly MP Oburu Oginga following a successful suit challenging his ownership.