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Double allocation stalks landowners in Kenya

Double allocation of land has returned to haunt property owners following confusion over validity of title deeds.

As landowners continue to battle painful realities of multiple allocations, Lands Minister James Orengo blames some of the fraud cases to the use of manual records by the ministry.

 According to Orengo, the records are susceptible to theft or manipulation by unscrupulous ministry officials.

“Most cases of double allocation or illegal transfer of land occur due to our reliance on manual records, which either get stolen or are manipulated,” says Orengo.

To counter the fraud, the minister wants his ministry allocated a whooping Sh9 billion in the next financial year to computerise land records countrywide. This is something that the ministry has hinted at for years but has nothing to show for yet.

“Computerisation will curtail theft and manipulation. This has worked with the national identity cards and log books,” says Orengo.

At one time, it took an impromptu search led by Ministry of Lands Permanent Secretary Dorothy Angote to expose the rot at Ardhi House.

Angote led senior officials, including Commissioner of Lands Zablon Mabea, to search for missing files from the central registry.

The search that paralysed operations at the headquarters for several hours yielded over 12,000 ‘missing’ land files hidden in personal desks.

Hidden files

Some workers were found with files dating back as far as 1995, which the PS says was beyond their mandate.

“What are these files doing here…? Can somebody tell me why these files cannot be in the registry?” asked a visibly dismayed Angote at the time.

According to the PS, the hidden documents were part of a cartel within the ministry involved in corruption.

“Kenyans are losing money to cartels in the ministry…staffers found with unauthorised files will be summoned to explain,” she warned.

Even as Ardhi House awaits financial assistance from Treasury to upgrade its records, the rot continues to spread.

 The Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Irregular and Illegal Allocation of Land (Ndungu Report) raised a red flag on double allocations.

According to the Ndungu Report, more than 200,000 title deeds were illegally created and registered between 1963 and 2002 alone.

And the bulk of beneficiaries included politically and economically influential personalities.

Several cases on land dispute are also in courts countrywide as litigants fight over ownership of double allocated plots.

Even as the country hopes that the new Constitution would resolve the emotive land issues, realities of double allocations continue to sink.

Take the case of Omolo Otieno who claims he recently went to pay outstanding land rates of their ancestral property in Kisumu and found it registered under a petroleum company.

“I went to pay up the revenue at the City Council of Kisumu but was shocked that ownership of our family land had mysteriously changed,” says Omolo.

Records at the Ministry of Lands indicate the property belongs to the family registered under their late father Pitalis Omolo Obara.

However, records at the City Council of Kisumu show that the same plot is registered to a fuel firm in Kisumu.

Copies of the title deed and demand notices from the council, which are in the possession of Home and Away, confirm the glaring discrepancies.

Omolo says he first noticed the change of ownership of his late father’s property when the council recently issued him with a demand notice.

Affected

“I was shocked beyond words on the change of registered owners as we have not sold the property,” he says.

The family is not alone as the script is similar to that of Amma Binti Abdalla of Kaloleni estate in the lakeside city.

Records at the council show that the same plot is registered under Mahadhi Abdi Mohammed.

Several other families fighting the nightmare of multiple allocation of property were allotted plots in Kibos by the City Council of Kisumu two years ago.

Records show that the same plots, which cover nearly 17 acres, were also allocated to a Cabinet minister.

It is baffling how the local authority could have sub-divided private property belonging to the Cabinet minister.

The affected plot owners say the council had allotted them the plots following a public balloting system two years ago.

Then Town Clerk Daniel Nkeere signed the documents after Director of Planning Absalom Ayany presided over the process.

Many allotees of land have been living in fear after former Lands Minister Amos Kimunya dismissed allotment letters as ‘just papers’.

Kimunya (now Transport minister) was referring to allotment letters issued by former President Moi to squatters on Banita farm in Nakuru.

Ayany says the manufacture and preparation of fake title deeds is affecting the vibrant real estate.

“Multiple allocations of land are a concern and the council instituted a policy that requires authenticity of allotment letters, title deeds and leases,” he says.

Ayany says landowners must produce letters from issuing authorities to confirm authenticity or validity of land title documents.

Harmonise laws

 “Laws should be harmonised. Charge a planning authority with the responsibility of allocating land use and management to minimise conflicts,” he says.

Residents of Syokimau whose palatial homes were demolished last year were also innocent victims of double allocations following fraudulent dealings.

At the Coast, the government recently nullified controversial allocations at Mavueni B Settlement Scheme in Kilifi following public outcry over alleged irregularities.

The residents claimed they were swindled huge tracts of land or allocated plots at unknown places before Orengo cracked the whip.

“I suspended the exercise (allocation) following public concerns over allocation of the settlement scheme until all the pending matters are cleared,” Orengo said.

The squatters’ delegation met the minister after the ministry issued letters of offer to the beneficiaries of the land in Bahari Constituency.

In Nakuru, it took the intervention of Defence Minister Yusuf Haji to intercept the grabbing of a prime plot allegedly grabbed from a woman by a senior government official.

In a letter to Mabea dated April 3, 2012, Haji demanded that the transaction be reversed.

Orengo later said that the woman would be compensated if it was established that she was the legally registered owner of the land.

Property lawyer Lucas Kang’oli confirms that the government can compensate property owners in cases where it is to blame for an irregular title deed.

Criminal Liability

“Investors should, however, beware that they would be criminally liable if found in possession of an illegal title deed,” says Lucas.

Uncertainties over validity of title deeds, leases and documents are also threatening the multi-billion shilling real estate sub-sector.

 Cases of missing documents at Nairobi’s Ardhi House, the Ministry of Lands headquarters, are further keeping away some prospective buyers.

Brilliant Ventures proprietor Kenyan Macharia says walk-in clients interested in purchasing land are affected by reports of double allocations.

“Clients fear to purchase property whose title documents could either turn out fake or revoked over alleged illegal allocation,” says Kenyan.

He says they rely on clients that they have dealt with before as many first time buyers say they no longer  trust land transactions.

The Stardard

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