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Records expose half-truths on Lamu land mess

wpid-james-orengo.jpegAs tempers flare over the Lamu land question, Jubilee and CORD politicians are economical with the truth, we can report today.

Following week-long investigations at Nairobi’s Ardhi House, The Standard On Sunday has unearthed fresh details of the alleged land scam and is in possession of several documentations, including paperwork trail and correspondence dating back to 1970s.

Our investigations reveal untruths and half-truths – either perpetuated deliberately or shared out of ignorance – by Jubilee and CORD operatives.

While Siaya Senator James Orengo, for instance, has denied playing any role in the allocation of land in Lamu when he served as Lands minister, documents in our possession indicate otherwise.

Similarly, available records trace the on-going saga – particularly regarding the 22 ranches that Lands Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu claims were allocated during the Tenth Parliament – to a period stretching from 2007 to 2008. This means some transactions were actually done during the reign of Prof Kivutha Kibwana at Ardhi House.

Also contestable is the claim by President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ngilu that 70 per cent of land in Lamu was fraudulently dished out to some 22 ranches. Records indicate the said portion of 500,000 acres accounts for just 30 per cent since the land mass of the coastal county is 1,605,720 acres.

The 70 per cent claim by Jubilee leaders may have been cited to highlight the gravity of the damage caused over a period of just five years. The correct figure of 30 per cent is still bad enough, only that CS Ngilu – deliberately or inadvertently – left out a host of other ranches dished out over the years.

And while Ngilu focuses on transactions carried out during the Tenth Parliament, more were hammered out as early as in the 1970s under controversial circumstances.

Speculative errands

International Centre for Policy and Conflict Executive Director, Ndung’u Wainaina, partly attributes the Lamu problem to high-placed individuals in Government, who reportedly (mis)use confidential reports to engage in speculative errands, whose goal is to purchase land in areas where major public projects are to be set up, and in turn sell the same to Government at exorbitant rates.

This trend, says Ndung’u, is not confined to Lamu, where the LAPSSET project is to take off. It is everywhere including in Naivasha, Isiolo and Turkana, where oil wells were recently discovered.

“The real dangerous people within the government circles are not even Cabinet Secretaries or Principal Secretaries, but the so-called deputy directors or assistant directors of one thing or the other – they are the real technical people who create the real mess of identifying chunks of land and preparing the paperwork for the ministers to sign,” he claims.

There is no denying, though, that the allocation of ranches in Lamu increased at the turn of the 2007 electoral year – during President Kibaki’s sunset years in office. Some deals kicked off and concluded when Kibwana was minister while others stretched to Orengo’s tenure.

In a letter dated August 13, 2008 and addressed to Francis Muthaura, then Head of the Public Service, for instance, then Lands PS Dorothy Angote, clarifies that the issuance of letters of allotment (October 2007) to Mat International “was a culmination of a consultation process involving District Development Committees from Tana River and Lamu districts.”

“The Part Development Plan PDP/LMU/228/4/07 was approved by the Minister for Lands on December 18 2007, and forwarded by the Director of Physical Planning in a letter PPD/228/107 dated December 20 2007 to the commissioner for issuance of letter of allotment,” explains Angote, with reference to 30,000 hectares given out to Witu.

“If I personally did anything illegal during my time as Lands minister, then I am ready to take full responsibility,” Kibwana, now Makueni Governor, told The Standard On Sunday when contacted.

Paper trail

While Ngilu squarely blames her predecessors, particularly Orengo, for the land mess in Lamu, it is evident from the paper trail that local communities, through the Lamu Council, engineered some  allocations.

In his letter dated February 2, 2012, and addressed to Orengo, Chairman of Lamu County Council Abdukassim Ahmed appeals to the Lands minister to approve the council’s minutes, which among other things recommends issuance of masses of land to various companies. With regard to the implementation of the LAPSSET project, the council wanted the allocation given to Mat International revised “since to date they have not commenced development”.

“It is proposed the allocation be distributed to many applicants to enhance competition and benefit the Lamu people,” writes Ahmed. In his handwritten remarks for action by his PS Angote, Orengo says “an allocation through a letter of allotment was made to NAT International. We had concerns about the size of the land given including the portion in Garsen. Subject to consultation with NAT international and due diligence and concurrence of Ministry of Agriculture and application of appropriate procedure, the council’s request may proceed.” The same is signed on February 29, 2012.

On allocations to Rusken International Limited, the County Clerk of Lamu Patrick Ouya writes to the Commissioner of Lands on January 4 2012 in a letter marked “Confidential”, “The council recommended the issuance of the land totalling 16,000 hectares for agricultural purposes. The project will increase the council revenue and offer employment to the youth.” Lamu West DC S Ikua puts further emphasis on the same land portion in a separate letter to the Commissioner of Lands, in a letter dated December 20, 2011. Citing deliberations of the Lamu District Development Committee on January 20, 2009, Ikua similarly observes that the project “will spur growth” in Lamu.

Reached for comment, Orengo regretted the land issue had been highly politicised and declined to comment on the CORD-Jubilee ping-pong over the Lamu affair.

“I am ready to offer direction and assist in any investigation relating to this matter as long as we stay sober and keep politics out of it. I can account for every action I took as a minister,” Orengo told The Standard On Sunday.

In her reports in our possession, Angote points out that all the approvals were a culmination of a wide range of consultations with relevant stakeholders. And Kibwana stresses that he tried, during his tenure, to document all people of Lamu and the entire Coast citizenry who were squatters, so that land could be availed to them: “Since independence, I was the first minister of lands to make title deeds available to Coast people from land held by absentee land owners.”

The Standard

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