First of all, I would like to congratulate President Uhuru Kenyatta for recently initiating the process of issuing land titles to the homeless Kenyans who desperately need a place to call home.
This is a very significant step towards the long journey of resolving the land issues in Republic of Kenya.
However, during a recent visit back home, I was amazed by the level of corruption, illegal cartels, fraudulent activities and inefficiency in land related matters.
As we all know, land issues are historical, complicated and cartelised. To eradicate cases of fraudulent land transaction facing the country, tough decisions need to be made and this will involve the key organs of the government (Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary).
This letter highlights some of the best solutions for 21st century if the government is really serious in resolving this thorny issue and as a result transforms Kenya where everyone has a chance to achieve the dream of owning a property or place to call home.
First, all land transactions should be 100 per cent automated starting from the county registrars up to the national level.
The Kenyan government should transition from manual land filing system to a fully computerised system.
As long as there is manual filing system, the cartels and the corrupt employees at land offices will continue capitalizing on any loop holes for monetary gains.
Each county should have a comprehensive database of all the land owners and their respective plots/properties. The respective county databases should be configured such that there are proper controls in place.
Any land transfer should be authorized by a county employee(s) who has authority to effect change into the system.
All individual county databases should then be consolidated into a master database which will be housed at the land headquarters (Ardhi House).
UNIQUE IDENTIFICATION NUMBER
This master database will also act as a backup in case of systems breakdown at the county level . Once an authorised land transaction has been finalised, it will be updated in the county database and automatically in the master database at national level.
Each land owner should have a unique identifier (PIN number) and each parcel of land should also be given unique numbers which identifies the land in reference to a registered plan/owner.
All land owners should be given a time frame to go and register all their properties with the county (if not already done) and provide copies of the supporting documentations (Title Deeds, PIN card, Tax Receipts, Title Search documents).
In reference to the government/county lands, they should be assigned special codes that will block any transfers unless authorized by the Ministry of lands through a special court order. This will prevent illegal sale of the government properties.
Secondly, any transfer of ownership of a parcel of land should only be authenticated in the system of records only by the authorized persons who have to sign in using their employees IDs and their security codes.
The registrar has a duty to ensure that only legally valid changes are made to the register. There should be clear policy and procedures stipulating the required documentation for a change of ownership to occur.
A change of ownership may come about as a result of a sale of the land, inheritance, death of the registered owner, court order or government decrees.
Each County should guarantee the accuracy of the registers and should compensate those whose rights are adversely affected by any administrative error or corruption emanated from county offices.
LAND REFORM ACT
If a responsible Kenyan citizen buys a property in good faith and is issued an official government document, then the same government should not repossess or demolish the property without reasonable compensation.
All employees in the ministry of lands need to be trained on ethics and the policy and procedures. Any violations of the agreed upon ethics, policies and procedures should lead to automatic disciplinary action including termination.
The government contract to design these databases should be awarded to a credible company with a proven track record. The roll out of these databases should be done in phases of which the pilot phase should be completed in one county and then replicated to the other counties.
The second important strategy to resolve these illegal land/property transactions is to pass a “Land Reform Act” which clearly stipulates a hefty minimum sentence (for example approximately 10 years in jail and/or Sh1 million fines)for anyone who knowingly engages in illegal transactions.
A special court should be established to handle these cases precisely and expediently. No one should be above the law when it comes to the Kenyan constitution.
These are expensive and tough reforms but they are extremely necessary if we want to resolve this long-lasting headache of land issues. There are several benefits of implementing these recommendations.
First, this will boost investor’s confidence as prospective buyers will know that the land ownership system works and if there are damages due to negligence, they will be duly compensated.
Secondly, this will drastically increase county revenues due to the fact that everyone will be registered and as a result convenient to collect land rates and property taxes.
Thirdly, the issue of corrupt individuals grabbing public land or properties will be drastically curtailed.
Most Kenyans within the country or in the Diaspora are pessimistic of investing hard earned finances to purchase land and / or properties due to fake title deeds. This fear can be eliminated through implementing the above referenced methodical reforms.
Mr President, let us fix this. Let us make a life time difference to Kenyans. It can be done.
Vincent Njenga is a banking professional based in Dallas, Texas.