Kenya: NLC on the Spot, Yet Again, Over Sh135 Million Land

A multimillion-shilling project financed by the government and the World Bank is in jeopardy following the shambolic manner in which a State agency handled a crucial land deal.

In revelations made yesterday before the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly, the National Land Commission (NLC) paid Sh135.5 million for a 50-acre parcel in Murang'a County whose transactions had been frozen as investigations continued.

MPs heard that the Asset Recovery Agency (ARA) had put a caveat on the land over investigations it was undertaking, but the NLC went ahead to acquire it on behalf of the Department for Housing and Urban Development. The acquisition was flagged by Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu.

The parcel was fully paid for in 2017 to help solve solid waste management challenges in Murang'a, Kiambu and Nairobi.

The committee chaired by Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi is looking into an audit on NLC accounts for acquisitions made on behalf of other agencies for the 2014/15 to 2016/17 financial years.

Dubious ownership

With the nature of the ARA investigations still unclear, PAC has summoned the agency's director, Muthoni Kimani, to shed more light on the encumbrances it has imposed on the land.

Appearing before the committee, Housing and Urban Development Principal Secretary Charles Hinga had a rough time explaining why the compulsory acquisition of the land went on despite the encumbrance. This came even as it emerged the government is yet to get the title deed.

Members heard that the land is still registered under Chosen Builders Investment Limited although payment was completed in 2018. The payments were made in two instalments of Sh53 million on April 20, 2017 and Sh82.47 million on January 12, 2018.

MPs are now warning that the delays in getting the title puts in danger the over Sh800 million investments already undertaken on the land by the government and the World Bank.

Mr Wandayi and Garissa Township MP Aden Duale wondered why the government would spend so much money on a project whose ownership remains dubious.

Shifted blame to NLC

"Was this land free of any encumbrances before you bought it? You will help us get to every shady detail behind this project," said Mr Wandayi.

Mr Duale was at a loss as to whether due diligence was done on the land. "You bought land that was under investigation. How was the person paid without surrendering the title?" Posed Mr Duale.

Mr Hinga confirmed the ARA investigations and shifted the blame to the NLC, which is mandated by law to compulsorily acquire land for other agencies.

"There was a lot of trust between us (Housing and Urban Development) and NLC. We gave NLC money to acquire the land and they did," the PS said, adding that the land belonged to M/s Chosen Builders Limited as per the title search.

"The process was lawful, transparent and accountable and without collusion, conflict of interest or abuse of office as it was conducted by NLC, who gave a lower valuation," the PS maintained. But this did not satisfy members' concerns.

Downgrading the project

"Is the World Bank aware that there is a dispute on the ownership of the land on which their money is being spent? At what point does the title deed pass to the new owner?" Posed Mr Wandayi.

The PS confirmed that the government is yet to inform the World Bank over the disputes on the land.

The special audit notes that although the project was to solve the solid waste management challenges in the three counties, officials of Nairobi Metropolitan Services Improvement Projects say the project has been downgraded to cover Murang'a only.

The special audit could not establish the reason for downgrading the project.

"No documentary evidence was presented at the time of the audit hence value for money for the parcel of land acquired cannot be ascertained," states the audit.

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