The Ministry of Lands has set out on a three-year project to have all land documents in digital form.
It is estimated that the programme that will affect such documents as title deeds and leases will cost Sh3 billion.
Two consultant firms have been hired to undertake the process that Lands Cabinet secretary Charity Ngilu describes as a game changer in the land business.
If all goes according to plan and the promises are fulfilled, land documents will in future be accessed at the click of a button, meaning that searches which usually take several days will be available in minutes.
This is already happening in Rwanda and Uganda, East Africa’s model states on land documentation and management.
The two firms hired to take us there were, incidentally, involved in the digitisation of data and processes in both countries.
Before going full throttle, Kenya’s Lands ministry decided to first test the waters by shutting down its operations for 10 working days to arrange files and trace those that were deemed lost.
The exercise, the ministry reported, gobbled up Sh67 million.
The money was spent on, among other things, hiring students to reorganise the filing system and security teams.
When the ministry, under the orders of Ms Ngilu, closed its doors to the public on 5 May, the Central, Nairobi, and records registries at Ardhi House were affected.
Last weekend, a beaming Ms Ngilu came out to announce that the disruption was worth it as her team had recovered about a million “lost” files that had either been misplaced or were mishandled by accounting officers.
Such lack of professionalism, Ms Ngilu lamented, was the reason it took upwards of 70 days to locate files.
She added that the clean-up and reorganisation would be rolled out in the counties as well.
While a recent report by the World Bank indicates that it takes more than 70 days for one to do land searches and acquire a title deed in Kenya, the Ministry of Lands says the period has been slashed to a maximum of 16 days.
And, after complete digitisation — which will replace the outdated format of storing data in bulky files — all one will need to do is enter details of the land parcel, click “Search”, and voilà!
That sounds like everyone’s sweetest dream. However, not everyone is patting Ms Ngilu on the back.
The National Land Commission (NLC), chaired by Mr Mohammed Swazuri, is one of its biggest critics.
It says that even though Ms Ngilu’s intentions have been trumpeted in the media as the way to Canaan, they are not only an illegality, but also a paved highway to hell.
The commission, reacting to the closure of registries in Nairobi last week, said the decision was unjustified as it denied its members access to their place of work and the public services.
The commission also raised questions about the deployment of university students at Ardhi House, arguing that “outsiders” could be used to make a mess of an already bad situation.
However, the matter was resolved through arbitration following a court order.
That, however, is not all that Mr Swazuri has been crying foul over.
He says the budget for his commission has been slashed without explanation while that of the Ministry of Lands has been increased.
The NLC says its allocation for this financial year has been cut from Sh1.9 billion to Sh652 million.
The Parliamentary Budget Office agreed that although the House had resolved to allocate Sh1.9 billion to Mr Swazuri’s team, the amount was reduced by Sh1.3 billion.
At the same time, a brief given to the Parliamentary Committee on Land indicates that the Ministry of Lands estimates had been increased from Sh15.5 billion to Sh21.7 billion.
Ms Ngilu has said that the additional Sh3 billion allocated to her ministry for its transformation will be accounted for “to the last penny”.
Among the things the money will be spent on are the transformation of the filing system to digital form and redesigning of the ministry’s website.
The money will also be used to pay the two firms awarded the digitisation contract and to buy new computers for staff.
Some Sh25 million will be used to purchase electronic data management software (EDMS), which will be used to digitise documents and create an interactive platform with other State databases such as the Kenya Revenue Authority’s massive site.
The two firms will have to scan all the files and capture the data in the computer.
This alone is estimated to cost Sh20 million.
Ms Ngilu on Sunday acknowledged that businesses had suffered great losses when the ministry decided to close its doors on 5 May. However, she said the action was necessary.
“Although some clients have incurred losses following the temporary closure of the ministry, we needed to do the audit to prevent land fraud,” said Ms Ngilu.
The Ministry of Lands has in recent years been in the spotlight over allegations of missing files, double allocation of land, and fraud.
Ardhi House’s response has always been the same: Modernise the filing system.
Many hope that the money being pumped into Ardhi House will help end this perennial problem once and for all.