Kenya: Owners Left With Worthless Paper in Embakasi Title Deeds Fiasco

23 November 2020

The use of irregular records to issue landowners with title deeds under President Kenyatta's mass titling project could now leave more than 25,000 intended beneficiaries in Nairobi's Ruai suburb holding worthless pieces of paper disguised as ownership documents.

The Nation investigations desk has established that the Lands ministry has in some cases rushed to issue title deeds without completing a survey as required by law, a mess that has contributed to double allocation of some parcels. The affected pieces as traced by our team are under the troubled Embakasi Ranching Company.

Surveyors who spoke to our team estimated that nearly one third of the 35,000 parcels under Embakasi Ranching have already been flagged for double allocation. The number of people whose names were submitted for issuance of titles is significantly higher than the available parcels.

While the land allocated to Embakasi Ranching is broken into 35,000 plots, the group's membership submitted to the Lands ministry more than 50,000 names.

Some of the title deeds seen by the Nation are missing a Registry Index Map (RIM) number.

Experts explained that the missing RIM number indicates that the director of surveys may not have submitted a survey plan to aid in the issuance of a title.

Title deeds

When contacted, Lands Cabinet Secretary Farida Karoney dismissed our questions as "rumours" and challenged us to produce at least 10 copies of title deeds issued irregularly.

"There is no title in Kenya which can be issued without the land being surveyed. This is what happens; you plan a place, you survey and after survey, you title. So are you suggesting that we titled land which is not surveyed? That is not true. Bring the evidence; don't work on rumours," Ms Karoney insisted, cutting us off despite informing her that we had copies of some of the affected title deeds.

But Ms Karoney's denial is exactly the situation that has left many landowners holding questionable title deeds. One of the titles without RIM number that the Nation has seen was issued on March 29, 2019 by a land registrar listed in the document as M. Maingi.

The title deed indicates that the landowner has been granted a 99-year lease backdated to January 1, 1988. This means the owner or his family will have to apply for renewal of a government lease before January 1, 2087.

Titles for shareholders

When the Lands ministry stepped in to kick off the mass titling project in Ruai in 2017, Embakasi Ranching was in the peak of internal wrangles. It was spearheaded by Lands Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri.

The company's officials had over the years tried to acquire titles for shareholders, and in the process hired several surveyors whose blunders left Embakasi Ranching holding a Sh100 million debt even as it emerged that some of them were quacks.

Some parcels have two different individuals holding title deeds and occupying the actual land.

The double allocation issue is not unique to the Ministry of Lands, however, as Embakasi Ranching officials have in some instances registered more than one individual to a land parcel.

Boniface Kimani Chomba has claimed in court that he bought land through Embakasi Ranching in 1991 and started farming on it. In 2015, Embakasi Ranching submitted the land's documents to the Director of Survey seeking to have it registered to Benjamin Kiambuthi Muthuri. The suit is ongoing.

Lucy Wambui Muthee bought two plots through Embakasi Ranching, but in 2011 the company allowed Theresia Wambui Thindiu and John Kamau to forcefully occupy one of the properties. On July 20, 2020 Justice Bernard Eboso declared Ms Muthee the valid owner after Embakasi Ranching, Ms Thindiu and Mr Kamau failed to defend the suit. Our team traced more than 30 court cases involving double allocation at Embakasi, some dating back to 2004.

Embakasi Ranching vice-chairman Walter Kigera is yet to respond to the Nation's calls seeking an interview.

Two surveyors at the of Lands ministry confirmed to us that the mass titling project is a mess in Ruai as the ministry went ahead to issue title deeds despite the fact that Embakasi Ranching did not submit all records required for processing of the ownership documents.

Titling contacts

"At the point of initial engagement, the expectation was that the ministry's plan of project implementation would begin with an audit of Embakasi Ranching stock of plots vis-à-vis the shareholders register, inquire into Embakasi Ranching's finance and the pre and actual titling contacts and also lay a framework for a co-optive bipartisan processing of shareholder plot allocation records," one of the surveyors who spoke on condition of anonymity said, adding: "... This existential threat as was to be expected elicited backlash where the existing records were not only withheld from the ministry team, but were possibly manipulated and altered to include freshly resold shareholder plots and introduction of these newly recruited buyers into their ever expanding shareholder register."

The two Survey of Kenya officials added that some of the title deeds, such as the ones missing RIM numbers, can be challenged in court, and could easily be disowned by the ministry. The ministry initially surveyed 700 plots and issued title deeds. The area in focus was Kamunyonge village, where people who occasionally entertained founding President Jomo Kenyatta during public functions, resided.

Another 720 plots in the area, sources told the Nation, were issued with new registration numbers without any supporting documents or survey.

The 720 irregular titles are not the only ones that have raised eyebrows, as currently more than 10,000 title deeds have been issued in a similar fashion, the two surveyors added.

Mr Howard Lwoyela, the lead surveyor during the 2017 titling process, has since sued the Ministry of Lands, Director of Surveys, CS Karoney, Dr Muraguri and Embakasi Ranching for using his survey records to process titles yet he had not cleared the documents owing to non-payment by the company.

After a surveyor clears his records for use, the Ministry of Lands allocates a RIM number to the parcel of land.

Mr Lwoyela's failure to issue clearance for his survey records could be the reason some title deeds issued do not have a RIM number.

"Currently, there are more than 1,000 cases before court where landowners have been accused of forging surveyors' signatures to get clearance that would allow the ministry of Lands to issue RIM numbers," Mr Lwoyela argues in one of his court documents.

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